Deadline

Monday, December 02, 2002

ABC Late Night ... As simple as ABC

Intro
Driving back from Santa Barbara yesterday, C-Horse turns to me and says, "I don't know who told me this theory -- it might've been you -- but I have to agree with it."

Well, it was me. Only two weeks earlier, we were at the White Horse Tavern and he asked me why ABC would launch a new late night show. I broke down my theory. For the record, here's my theory on why ABC is right in launching a new talk show now. Remember, ABC has lots of money and can stand losing some cash in the short term for a long-term place on late night.

Background
About six months ago, when Letterman was renegotiating his contract with CBS, things weren't going well. All of a sudden someone leaked that ABC and the gap-toothed comic were in secret negotiations. Then CBS stopped treating Dave like Bryant Gumbel and gave him the money he wanted for a five-year contract. He then announced on his CBS late night show that he was going to end his career at CBS...

1. Since he announced it on "The Late Show," no one saw it.
2. He made it sound like he was being loyal to the Eye Net.
3. A more honest approach: "It's all about cash money, yo. Dolla bills, y'all."

The Aftermath
That left ABC standing there with their pants down. They showed the world their cards: they wanted Koppel out and a regular talk show in.
"Ted, why the long face?"

Ted Koppel freaked. People freaked! "How can you replace a news show with a talk show?"

1. F' Koppel. He's on the air twice a week, if that. What if Leno only hosted his show twice a week?
2. F' Koppel. He makes $5 million a year. Take the money and run, to CNN.
3. IT'S TV. The only responsibility they have is to get ratings. If "Nightline" is so sacred, then more people should watch it.
4. Why should ABC not make potential millions so you can feel better about owning a TV?

Then What Happened?

ABC signed Jimmy Kimmel to do a one-hour talk show at midnight after the all-of-a-sudden-important "Nightline."

The Theory (Finally!)

- By Putting Kimmel at midnight, they are establishing him as a late-night option.
- Koppel has a three-year contract. When that expires, ABC can give the strange-looking deadpan news guy a proper send-off and put in the already established Kimmel at 11:30. It'll be as if he inherited the spot.
- Now there's three white men talking to the same stars about the same movies.
- Letterman's contract is up two years after that.
- With him gone, CBS has to introduce yet another new white male talk show host, making him the dark horse. (Jon Stewart may finally get out of the gate.)
- Now you've made it a two-horse race, Leno or Kimmel, with "that new guy who sucks and isn't as good as Letterman was on CBS" bringing up the rear.

So if ABC is willing to put up with losing money upfront and Kimmel can take early criticisms at a "Conan O'Brien rate," then ABC can pull the talk show rug out from under NBC and CBS.

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