Does Late Night TV Still Matter? Jimmy Kimmel

I want to root for Jimmy Kimmel. Like Jon Stewart, I watched him develop step-by-step up the comedy ladder. I root for all comedians who don’t send Lorne Michaels birthday gifts or watch NFL Sunday Ticket at Judd Apatow’s place.

In the increasingly vanilla American comic landscape, Jimmy is the refreshing mint chocolate-chip. Jimmy utilizes the same old-school joke building tools that Bob Hope and Milton Berle raised to an art form. He doesn’t need you to like him. He just wants you to be the joke or react to the joke.

I want to root for Jimmy Kimmel. Here in Chicago, he does not come on until 12:05AM CST. Nightline bumps him back across the country. Right away, he starts the hundred meter dash 50 meters behind his competition.

After Nightline here, comes the rerun of that day’s Oprah. Any remote stopping at Oprah‘s not going to stay on the coffee table too long. I don’t think WLS, Chicago’s ABC affiliate, could think of a worse lead-in to Kimmel. Celebrity manicures and celebrity midget jokes don’t mix. As a devout denier of Oprah’s salvation, just the sight of her one-black-lady-in-a-room-full-of-white-ladies routine puts me off ABC for the night.

I know I live in Oprahnistan, but come on WLS and other ABC affiliates. Give the guy a chance. My heart always finds a place for such unappreciated underdogs.

I want to root for Jimmy. I do. Except for one thing. His show is an absolute, 100 percent, no-doubt-about-it train wreck. And the worst part is, most of it’s not Jimmy’s fault. The man’s just stuck in a terminally unfunny relationship with his employer. He’s a modern-day borscht belt comedian posing as the ringmaster of an extremely rigid network dog-and-pony show.

ABC wants Jimmy to do Carson Daly (strangely enough, an intern of Jimmy’s years ago) with bite. Even if that was not an oxymoron, Jimmy would never be anyone’s choice for that assignment. Well, nobody who wasn’t a congenitally clueless media conglomerate suit.

See, Jimmy Kimmel Live! never went by the usual rules for network talkers. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in 2003 surprised by ABC’s choice. My whole life to that point the network shied away from late-night, leaving their affiliates to battle King Carson with movies. ABC gambled that Kimmel would take away Kilborn’s young male demographic and offer a strong alternative to Letterman and Leno.

At first, it looked like that bet might just pay off. ABC/Disney handed Jimmy their swanky El Capitan Theater and a prime Hollywood Boulevard location. Then came the announcement that there would be a working, full-service bar in the theater for guests and audience. Jimmy Kimmel hosting a televised celebration of binge-drinking? Every night? Live? And the first guests would be Snoop Dogg and George Clooney??

Now this was must-see TV.

That first show did not disappoint. Clooney passed a bottle of vodka around. Snoop Dogg izzle-fizzled while heavily medicated. An audience member vomited. Watching the show, I thought Jimmy had cracked the code. Finally, a brave host would turn their back on Carson’s evergreen format and steer late-night in a new direction (or maybe not. Ed McMahon spent most of the ’70s stiff).

Alas, Jimmy’s Proctor and Gamble sponsored kegger lasted only that one episode. It seemed his bosses at the Mouse House didn’t exactly believe that broadcasting the live witticisms of one Cordozar Calvin Broadus, Jr. across the nation was the best use of their most visible media outlet. The bar left for good, as did the live concept soon after, and Jimmy learned to keep to the straight and narrow. Jimmy jumped the shark before the end of his first week. At home, I changed the channel.

The bar incident left a bad taste in my mouth. It smacked of publicity stunt. In the following years, Kimmel Live proved adept at generating viral videos, but not at developing a brand of its own. Jimmy’s increasingly cynical attitude grew tiresome. The last impression a late-night host wants to leave with a viewer is that he/she couldn’t care less if the viewer came back or not. You often catch that vibe from Kimmel. Some nights his enthusiasm looks like it would take a cattle prod to get to hungover.

I can’t say that my week of watching changed my opinions. In two ‘cold openings’, Jimmy pushed a sponsor’s super phone. Where Letterman and his writers would have found a clever way to slip the plug into a broadcast (or out-right refused to do it at all), Jimmy read copy surely ignored by him and his staff.

Jimmy, live by Larry Sanders. Let your Hank do the spots.

Jimmy opens with the monologue. Please, somebody, please- kill the monologue as a mainstay. Jimmy’s writers are so sick of pumping monologues out, they’re still making Howard Dean jokes. Howard who? Jimmy knows how to build a joke, but there was very little pay-off for me in terms of laughs.

Unless Vern Troyer drunk and falling down kills you. Then this is the show for you.

Jimmy suffered through pointless interview with ABC product after ABC product. You can almost hear his tears when he debriefed Michael Irvin and Mark Dacascos in their ridiculous dancing outfits. You can’t tempt a comic like that and not let him deliver.

Pamela Lee followed. Jimmy reminded her of some home movies-”You make a great film, it stays with America.” Pamela showed up to promote her new perfume, which smells like ‘patchouli and chocolate’. So basically a hippie on Halloween. The highlight of the Tuesday night show, though, had to be Manny Pacquiao singing ‘Sometimes When We Touch’.

Jimmy’s interviewing skills can best be summed up by this question to Joshua Jackson: “Is your mother involved in your life?” Umm… how is anyone supposed to answer that? Joshua responded well: “I don’t know, Jimmy, is your mother involved in your life?”

Point, Jackson.

After Jackson, Kimmel’s best booking of the week arrived- Big Bird. He classed up the joint and then some. Jimmy lobbed softballs up to Big Bird’s bill. Until…

Jimmy: “Have you ever laid any eggs or anything like that?”

Big Bird: “I’m a boy!”

If awkward laughs equaled ratings, Jimmy Kimmel Live would have a Harvard writer on staff named Conan.

Ghostface Killah capped Wednesday night with an expert exhibition of his nonsensical rhymes. A harpist accompanied him. For the record. A harpist also accompanied the musical act on Thursday night. Is the harp the new Farfisa organ?

The week ended with a performance by Chickenfoot (the second ‘foot’ band that week), a ‘super’group consisting of Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani, and Chad Smith. I don’t know if the fact that I dug their performance indicated I really liked it or that I was just happy to be done watching the show for this column.

HBO and ABC need to make a trade. For who knows what reason, HBO committed itself to a talk-show with Fox Sports’ Ryan Seacrest, Joe Buck. No, no, no. Give Joe Buck the show on Disney’s ABC. Put Jimmy on HBO. Make it live. Bring back the bar. And let Mr. Kimmel do what he does best: go blue and encourage debauchery from his guests and audience.

Alright, enough saving the world for one night. I’m off to bed.