Jimmy Kimmel says ABC execs once voiced their concerns that his nightly ridiculing of Donald Trump and his supporters in his “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” monologues was costing him and the network dearly in viewers and fans.
They “hinted” that they would prefer if he lay off the political comedy, Kimmel said in a podcast interview last Thursday (November 3).
Kimmel then said he threatened to quit if the network brass insisted that he tone down his attacks on Trump.
Since he never did make the changes they “hinted” at, he implied in the podcast interview that his network bosses caved when he threatened to walk away from the show.
Kimmel made these remarks on the podcast called “Naked Lunch,” co-hosted by Phil Rosenthal, creator of “Everybody loves Raymond,” and David Wild.
The discussion about Kimmel and his commitment to lambasting Trump on his show came near the end of the one-hour interview.
"Does ABC ever say to you, 'Hey, could you just not attack this side and lay off a little bit because we’re going to lose those people'?" asked one of the co-hosts.
Answered Kimmel: "There was at one time, maybe, I don’t know -- like, right around the beginning of this whole, like, Trump thing -- where that was kind of hinted at.
"But I just said, 'Listen, I get it. I don’t disagree. I mean, you’re right. I have lost half of my fanbase, maybe more than that. When I, you know, 10 years ago among Republicans, I was the most popular [late-night] talk-show host, at least according to the research that they did. And I get it if that’s what they want to do.'
“I just said, 'Listen, if that’s what you want to do, I understand and I don’t begrudge you for it'," he continued. "But I’m not going to do that. So, you know, if you want somebody else to host the show, then that’s fine, that’s OK with me. I’m just not going to do it like that. And they were like, alright. They knew I was serious."
This portion of the interview was interesting to me on several levels. One was what it said about the very purpose of network television as an industry in the business of making money.
Here was a network -- ABC -- that was concerned that its late-night show was not achieving the kind of viewership it might have, because the host was taking sides in a hostile political arena that was dividing the country basically into two halves.
For the ABC execs, it must not have seemed unreasonable that a partisan late-night show such as the one their late-night star was hosting every night would attract an audience from only one of those halves, and not the other.
Perhaps they actually expected Kimmel to see the logic of their thinking. And if so, maybe they expected him to alter the focus of the show to become an “equal-opportunity” comedy show that humorously attacked both sides more or less equally.
After all, the goal of TV shows sustained by advertising revenue is to bring as many viewers into the tent as possible -- perhaps even to achieve that Holy Grail of television, mass appeal (or something resembling it).
Isn’t the underpinning of television the idea that “the more people who watch you, the more money you make?”
And what about Kimmel’s refusal to bend at all toward what they wanted him to do?
If the story is to be believed, then he stood in the way of the company’s goal of making more money from his show, and they let him do that.
There was a time when talent couldn’t get away with things like that. Long ago, there were autocratic network chiefs who would have called his bluff and replaced him.
On the other hand, perhaps Kimmel himself was right. In today’s world, it is expected of TV’s late-night hosts to dive headfirst into partisan political topics every night.
Gone are the days of the Carson and Leno-and-Letterman eras in which the top stars of late-night sought carefully to conceal their private political leanings precisely because they did not want to divide their audiences and essentially lose half of them.