NBC late-night host Jay Leno is just like Jason in the ‘‘Friday the 13th’’ movie franchise, Jimmy Kimmel — Leno’s soon-to-be time-slot-competitor — told reporters in a recent phone call.
‘‘He seems to pop up just when you think he’s dead — he comes alive, and he’s got a hatchet,’’ the star of ABC’s ‘‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’’ said on the call, which was supposed to be about the historic move of his show to the plum 11:35 p.m. time slot, where he’ll swim with the big fish, Leno and CBS’s David Letterman, starting Jan. 8.
Kimmel gave mostly polite, noncommittal answers to reporters’ questions about his show’s promotion from midnight to the earlier time slot, which is now occupied by the storied Ted Koppel-created news program, ‘‘Nightline.’’
One reporter wondered what was the best and the worst advice Kimmel has received about moving to the more prestigious time.
Kimmel said he hadn’t gotten much advice.
Asked whether the jokes would have to be somewhat tamer, Kimmel said: ‘‘The jokes remain exactly the same.’’
Kimmel, in fact, dismissed the thought that the show would have to change in any way as being an ‘‘out of date’’ idea.
Asked how his performance might change now that he’s swimming with the big fish, Kimmel responded: ‘‘I don’t know, really.’’
So please, don’t judge The Reporters Who Cover Television harshly if they asked Kimmel a mess of questions about Leno.
Like the one who told Kimmel how ‘‘noble’’ he was for making touching comments about the shooting of schoolchildren in Newton, Conn., on his Monday broadcast. That said, the reporter then wondered whether Kimmel had ‘‘gotten wind of some of the rumblings’’ about ‘‘possible changes at other marquee late-night programs’’ that ‘‘might occur in the next year or two . . . in an effort to perhaps youth-ify them or at least keep pace with what you and ABC are doing.’’
Because, as you can see, to this reporter’s credit, he was trying very, very hard not to actually say Leno’s name.
(Either that, or he had made a bet with his editor that he could ask the Leno question without saying ‘‘Leno.”)
Anyway, we, and Kimmel, assumed that the reporter was referring to a recent New York Daily News report that NBC suits were mulling whether to give the ‘‘Tonight’’ show to Jimmy Fallon when Leno’s contract expires, in 2014. File that report under ‘‘Duh.’’
‘‘Jay Leno is not going to be able to stay on television forever, and obviously Jimmy Fallon is the heir apparent, and he’s doing a great job, so it makes sense people would talk like this,’’ Kimmel responded. ‘‘That said, you can never count Jay out,’’ he added, lauching into his ‘‘Friday the 13th’’ gag.
Another reporter wondered, ‘‘What’s your problem with Jay?’’
‘‘Well, first of all, I will say 99 percent of the thinking and talking I do about Jay Leno comes when I’m doing an interview,’’ Kimmel asserted.
‘‘Otherwise, I don’t think much about him, but people ask me about him constantly.’’ He only answers the questions, he said, because on his show, ‘‘there’s nothing I dislike more than a guest who won’t answer the question.’’
He insisted: ‘‘It may seem that I’m obsessed with Jay Leno and I promise I’m not.’’
(That came as something of a surprise, having attended the taping of Kimmel’s show the previous night. The night’s warm-up comic — who said that he’d known Kimmel for years and that he owed his career to the guy — told the audience members that if they didn’t measure up during the taping, they would be put on a bus and shipped to Leno’s show — which, he added, ‘‘nobody wants to happen.’’)
It kind of left you feeling that Leno’s is the face on the dartboard at Kimmel’s Jackhole Industries office. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Anyway, Kimmel revealed to the reporters that he’d cleaned out his home office this week and had found a couple of the 25 buttons sporting original drawings of David Letterman’s he’d made years ago — in case any of the reporters had forgotten how obsessed he is with Letterman. Kimmel then explained that when ‘‘Late Shift’’ — the book about the passing of the ‘‘Tonight Show’’ from Johnny Carson to Jay Leno — came out ‘‘and I realized Jay had schemed to take something away from someone that I admired . . . that’s what did it for me.
‘‘And the scheming seems to have continued,’’ Kimmel said, in reference to Leno having ceded ‘‘Tonight’’ to Conan O’Brien, only to get it back again when NBC gave Conan the hook.
Note to Kimmel: If you do not want reporters to think you spend all your time obsessing about Leno, give noncommittal answers to questions about Leno — you know, like the answers you gave to questions about your show moving to 11:35 p.m. — and go on to the next question. We haven’t read a profile of you to date in which the most quotable things you said weren’t about Leno.
O’Brien already has the corner on the Hating Jay Leno market. At best, you’re only going into the ‘‘Late Shift’’ sequel as The Second Most Leno-Obsessed Late-Night Guy, and we get the feeling you’re not a guy who’s content to be second best at anything.