Will Jimmy Kimmel Get to Take on Conan After All?

In a look at the shifting geography of late-night TV as Jay Leno prepares to move to 10 p.m., the New York Times' Bill Carter and Brian Stelter drop an idea we hadn't heard before: ABC is thinking of moving Nightline up to 10 p.m. as well.

"[O]ne ABC employee acknowledged that Nightline, the late-night ABC News show, has been talked about as a future 10 p.m. possibility," wrote Carter and Stelter. Its a weakly presented nugget—it comes from an "employee" of ABC rather than an executive or someone described as a well-placed source, and it's hedged to within an inch of it's life. ABC News executives are professing ignorance of the proposal.

The main beneficiary of such a move would be our friend Jimmy Kimmel, who would then be free to start at 11:35 and go head-to-head with Conan O'Brien. Carter wrote in January that ABC was considering replacing Nightline with Kimmel as early as this year, a notion that ABC News executives aggressively shot down. In either scenario, of course, Kimmel comes out on top. (Wait—he's an employee of ABC, right?)

Expanding Nightline to an hour and moving it up to 10 p.m. actually makes economic sense—the marginal increased costs of producing a second half-hour would be outweighed by the potential gain in doubling the show's ad revenue. And there are more viewers to attract at that hour. The question is whether it can make more profit—and provide a better lead-in for its affiliates' local news operations—than Lost or Private Practice or any of the new dramas it's launching at 10 p.m. next season. NBC's Leno move might open up space for dramas on other networks, making them a better proposition. Or it might herald an audience shift toward light-weight programming at 10 p.m. If it's the latter, moving up Nightline would be easy and smart.

But really—does anyone care anymore? Carter's January story about Kimmel taking Nightline's spot was cast in the breathless language of a battle between entertainment and news values. That was the case back in 2002, when ABC tried to lure David Letterman over to replace Nightline. But it was the case because Ted Koppel was hosting the show at the time, and Nightline was serious and designed to actually gather and distribute valuable information about the world. The fates of Martin Bashir and Cynthia McFadden may be interesting from a business perspective, but the battle between entertainment and news values was lost long ago.