ABC's Kimmel To Compete Against Late-Night Kings

Huge changes are coming to the world of late-night TV: ABC's Jimmy Kimmel is getting a better time slot, comedian Arsenio Hall will host a show again and NBC's Jay Leno took a pay cut to avoid further layoffs. Kimmel will compete against Leno and David Letterman.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's go now to a different type of media: late night television, where huge changes are afoot. Jimmy Kimmel is getting a better time slot. Arsenio Hall is coming back. Jay Leno took a pay cut, and Jon Stewart cleans up at 11 o'clock.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")

JON STEWART: Yes! President Barack Obama decided to attend this debate. And the two candidates can finally have a truthful, substantive discussion about how much they (bleep) hate each other.

GREENE: Late-night comedy shows can actually be very valuable to the TV industry. They're relatively cheap to produce and they attract advertisers who are eager to reach the young viewers.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair checks in on the latest maneuvers during late night.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: At 11:35pm on broadcast TV, you have the old guard.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW MONTAGE)

JAY LENO: You know something, you were born the year I started the show.

DAVID LETTERMAN: I haven't had a standing ovation in my life.

BLAIR: On cable, there's a whole field of talent that skews younger.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW MONTAGE)

STEWART: Congratulations Europe, you gave yourself the Nobel Peace Prize.

STEPHEN COLBERT: It seems like the background check is missing some pretty important questions, you know what I'm saying? Like why do you want a gun?

CHELSEA HANDLER: I would just think from your body of work and knowing you that you're not like amazing in bed.

BLAIR: The audiences for these shows are much smaller than Leno's or Letterman's, but they still attract advertisers, says Bill Carter of The New York Times.

BILL CARTER: If you have enough people in the younger demographic that the advertisers are still struggling to reach, it can be effective. You just, you can't hope to have the audiences that you had 20 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

LENO: Welcome to "The Tonight Show," or as Comcast calls us, "The Expendables." That's right. Woo.

BLAIR: Jay Leno wasn't totally kidding. In September, NBC let go about 20 staffers from "The Tonight Show." Leno reportedly took a 50 percent pay cut to avoid any further layoffs. That's despite the fact that Leno has late night's largest overall audience.

Over at ABC, they see an opening. They're moving its signature news show "Nightline" back, and moving Jimmy Kimmel to 11:35.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

JIMMY KIMMEL: Welcome to hot and filthy Hollywood. We're happy to have you here. There's a lot going on around here.

BLAIR: The move will put Kimmel head to head with Leno and Letterman. Bill Carter says ABC executives are thinking ahead.

CARTER: And I think they realize two things: you have Letterman and Leno, they both are probably going to do a year or two more. So you get two years of him going against older guys and then Jimmy Fallon will undoubtedly get "The Tonight Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

JIMMY FALLON: There's an ad for a miniature donkey talk magazine.

Apparently, it's the talk of the donkey world.

CARTER: And they're afraid of Jimmy Fallon. He's a hot young act and they want to get in before Fallon for two years and get Jimmy Kimmel established.

BLAIR: Kimmel will also go up against Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and the second half hour of Conan O'Brien on TBS.

TBS president Michael Wright says he's not afraid of Kimmel.

MICHAEL WRIGHT: My bet is Kimmel draws his 11:30 audience from across a number of shows, not from any one in particular.

BLAIR: Over at CBS, they're hoping Arsenio Hall will lure viewers away from other shows. He had a popular late night show about 20 years ago. His guests included Snoop Dog, Whoopi Goldberg and then presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE ARSENIO HALL SHOW")

ARSENIO HALL: But I'm glad you're here. Let's get right down to things. What you like, the old Elvis for the...

...which stamp? You know, I know you're an Elvis fan.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I led a national crusade for the young Elvis.

HALL: Really?

CLINTON: Yeah.

MEKEISHA MADDEN TOBY: It was fun and different, and it felt like a party atmosphere.

BLAIR: Mekeisha Madden Toby writes a blog for MSN-TV. She says late night could use some more non-white faces. But she wonders if Arsenio Hall is the answer.

TOBY: He's older now. So what kind of party are we talking about?

BLAIR: Even if it's a great party, the competition is stiff. Just listen how even a powerhouse like Jon Stewart protects his turf.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So...

STEWART: "Totally Biased" with Kamau Bell...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right.

STEWART: When's that on?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That comes on tomorrow night on FX.

STEWART: What time?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right after "Louie."

STEWART: OK. (Bleep) Don't watch it because that's 11 o'clock.

BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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