HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — After a decade of chasing laughs in the midnight hour on ABC, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” moved up to the 11:35 p.m. slot on Jan. 8, going head-to-head with “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “The Late Show With David Letterman.” In the first few weeks, Kimmel improved on his ratings, including a first-place showing Jan. 24 when his longtime “nemesis” Matt Damon hijacked the program and enticed big names like Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and buddy Ben Affleck to razz Kimmel.
Kimmel recently welcomed reporters to his revamped set at the El Capitan Theatre for breakfast and a chat and joked that although he had been number one among viewers ages 18 to 49 the previous night, “don’t get used to it.”
Q. Are you ever amazed at all the buzz around moving up and how you’re seen so differently?
A. I think people like the drama of “Who will be the king of late night?” when the truth is Johnny Carson retired with the crown. There is no king of late night anymore. There are a bunch of shows that split up a very small part of the audience pie. That’s the reality of it. But people do love to treat it like a sporting event, when it really isn’t that.
Q. You’ve managed to convince a lot of celebrities to do comedy bits. Who do you dream of getting to play along?
A. I’d like to put the president in a comedy bit. That would be great.
Q. You do a big Oscar show every year. Do you have a wish list for participants?
A. We do, but we have to keep it secret because if the people at the top of the list say no, then we want to make the next person on the list feel like they were our first choice.
Q. What do you know now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?
A. You get pretty excited when you have a good show and you get pretty down when you have a bad show, and you learn that it really doesn’t matter that much. The key is to be consistent.
Q. What rating would make you happy?
A. Honestly, I think that ultimately we’ll wind up being the number three talk show. I mean, these are shows that have been on for a long time. You really can’t discount the legacy “The Tonight Show” has and how ingrained it is in Americans and their habits. So number three is fine with me.
Q. Did your recent makeover really start with Dr. Oz telling you to lose weight?
A. It really did, and I know it’s a ridiculous thing, but the way I feel is I’m on television so I need a television doctor to tell me. I can’t go to a regular doctor.
Q. Is your cholesterol better?
A. My cholesterol is better, but I’m still taking the Crestor because I just like how it tastes.
Q. How do you keep your energy up after 10 years?
A. I came from a radio background where for most of my career it was 5 or 5½ hours on the air and just me, no writers, no producers, no team of any kind. So I think that gave me a great basis for being able to do this. For me, when I come to work, just the fact that we have a table with food on it is unbelievable for any former radio disc jockey.
Q. What are you watching?
A. There are a lot of shows on my docket. I’m excited about “Girls.” I really love that show. I really feel like I’m learning about a world of which I was completely unaware. And it also makes me worry about my daughter.
Q. Who did you hear from after those first good ratings numbers came in?
A. A lot of people, my ex-boyfriend Ben Affleck. I have to say I have a lot of thank-you notes to write. That’s one of the hidden bonuses. I got a beautiful bouquet of roses from Gwen Stefani that even the guys that come up to my office say, “Wow, those are beautiful flowers!”
Q. Now that you’re a decade in and you’ve interviewed so many big names, does anyone still make you feel star-struck?
A. A lot of people do. I’m a nervous type in general, so there are times when I get nervous. I’m most comfortable with comedians, I think, because you know that there’s a good chance that they’re going to be funny and you can just kind of throw the ball to them. When I interviewed Meryl Streep I was nervous. People that are classy are the people that I fear I’m going to be exposed to be the oaf I am. (Laughs.)
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