01.20.11

Nightline Squeezed, but Surviving

The news show may be losing six vital minutes to Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show, but at least it’s sticking around—and a spokesman promises the changed format will be “almost unnoticeable.”

In the world of late night, every minute matters.

And Nightline is losing six of its precious 30 minutes.

ABC, which had promised Jimmy Kimmel an earlier start time, is moving him up from 12:05 a.m. to midnight, with the news show, which begins after local newscasts end at 11:35, surrendering the precious air time.

(Which is a lot better than being replaced by a comedian, as ABC originally planned to do when it tried to lure David Letterman in 2002, and pondered again when it seemed Jay Leno might leave NBC after his 10 p.m. flop—that, of course, before Leno wound up dislodging Conan O’Brien.)

Sherwood says the move “answers one existential question about Nightline—that is, in an era of multimillionaire comedians, it will continue to exist.”

Nightline does well in the ratings these days, generally beating Letterman on CBS, and ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider says producers will tinker with the format so that “to viewers it will be almost unnoticeable.”

The new ABC News president, Ben Sherwood, quoted ABC president Anne Sweeney in a memo to staff, saying that the earlier start time “gives Jimmy the chance to leverage that strong lead-in more effectively with a quicker connection to late-night viewers, which will help him build on the great momentum his show has experienced over the past year.”

As a sort of consolation prize, the network is giving Terry Moran, Cynthia McFadden, and Bill Weir of Nightline 13 hours of branded primetime hours this year—a way to expose the franchise to a much broader audience on 13 separate evenings.

Sherwood says the move “answers one existential question about Nightline—that is, in an era of multimillionaire comedians, it will continue to exist.”

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.