Jimmy Kimmel's juggling act

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2012 - 10:49 AM

ABC's late-night star gets ready - finally - to host the Emmy Awards.

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It's a busy time for Jimmy Kimmel. In addition to hosting the Emmys, he'll soon compete with Jay Leno and David Letterman in late night TV.

Photo: Richard Cartwright, ABC

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This isn't supposed to be Jimmy Kimmel's first stint as host of the Emmys. Many assumed ABC would tap its late-night star the last time it aired the awards show, four years ago. Instead, the job went to the five "entertainers" up for outstanding reality host. The nominees, who opened with a bit about "nothing" and proceeded downhill from there, bombed so badly that Time magazine named it one of the top 10 worst hosting attempts in TV history.

"I wasn't really ticked off, to be honest with you," said Kimmel of the public snub. "I actually took some satisfaction out of it because everyone seemed to hate how the broadcast came out, and I was able to look good by not doing anything at all.

"That's my goal in life, by the way."

If being stagnant were truly Kimmel's goal, then 2012 is turning out to be a disappointing year.

In addition to hosting the 64th annual Emmy Awards Sunday, Kimmel served as emcee for the White House Correspondents Dinner in April and got engaged to girlfriend Molly McNearney, one of his show's head writers. He persuaded Oprah Winfrey to appear on his show and orchestrated a video starring George Clooney, Meryl Streep and just about every other star in Hollywood that premiered after the Academy Awards. In late October, "Jimmy Kimmel Live" will start shooting a week's worth of shows in Brooklyn.

But the biggest professional news came last month when ABC announced that, starting in January, Kimmel will swap time slots with "Nightline," meaning that his "Live" -- the only late-night network talk show that gained viewers last season -- will compete directly with Jay Leno and David Letterman.

Not bad for a guy once known for hosting "The Man Show," best remembered for near-naked women bouncing on trampolines.

"Maybe it's like the sad kid sitting outside of the house where the party is happening, and someone finally goes, 'All right. Come in and have a drink,'" Kimmel, 44, said. "I don't know that the world has come closer to my humor, but I think it's just attrition more than anything. I think if you hang in there long enough, eventually you're part of the group."

Don't look for Guillermo

Emmy producers know a hot hand when they have one, which is why you can expect to see a lot of Kimmel throughout the program.

Hosting the Emmys poses a unique challenge, notes its director, Don Mischer, because the television academy hands out 26 awards, more than any other show of its kind. That leaves only about 22 minutes for monologue, music and other bits.

"You want to keep the show funny and paced quickly," said Mischer, who also was tapped last week to helm the next Oscars broadcast. "How we'll do that is by having Jimmy weave himself in and out of the awards presentations by him making comments about somebody who just won or walked off. That's what makes these things move and gives them pizazz."

While Kimmel confesses that he doesn't have a lot of control over a live broadcast like the Emmys, you can bet that his comic sensibility will set the tone. But he's cautious about making the same mistake his showbiz idol, David Letterman, made in 1994 when he tried to turn the Academy Awards into a prime-time version of his own show.

"I thought Dave was great, but I was very familiar with his show and I loved seeing those elements of his show worked into the program," Kimmel said. "With that said, I understand that I'm there hosting the Emmys and that it's not some expansion of my show. So, no, Guillermo [his sidekick] won't be invited."

As for the move to an earlier time slot, Kimmel said it was important if the show is to continue growing.

"There's a huge difference between the number of eyeballs available at midnight and at 11:35," he said, referring to the Eastern and Western time zones. "So many people watch our videos online, we couldn't help but wonder what would happen if we were exposed to a wider audience."

All the pressure may be getting to him. When I e-mailed Kimmel last week to follow up on a couple things, I promised him that I only had some "quick questions."

"These are quick questions?" he wrote back, just a couple hours before pitting Britney Spears and Simon Cowell against each other in a twisted version of "The Newlywed Game" and just a day before the Dave Matthews Band played to his show's outdoor audience.

"It's a mad scramble," he wrote. "This Emmy thing adds a lot to my already full plate. I am crazed."

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431

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