Jimmy Kimmel‘s aggressive noise-making strategy appears to be paying off as he revs up to take on Lorne Michaels and Jimmy Fallon in his time slot. During the second week of the new TV season, his ABC late-night show grew over Premiere Week, by 2% in overall audience and 10% in adults 18-49. Meanwhile, NBC’s Jay Leno-hosted The Tonight Show and CBS’ David Letterman-hosted The Late Show both dipped slightly from Premiere Week performances in the demo, though Letterman grew in overall audience, according to Nielsen stats out this morning. More important to ABC, for the second week in a row, Kimmel clocked double-digit gains over the same week last year — 34% in overall audience and 42% in the demo. That said, Kimmel’s still No. 2-ranked in the demo as of last week, behind NBC’s No. 1-ranked — and exiting — Leno, who also maintained a 1.3 million lead over Kimmel (and a 716,000 lead over Letterman) among viewers of all ages. Leno, in his second last lap as host of Tonight, is off to his biggest opening two weeks of a new TV season in three years in the demo and total viewers.
Kimmel has been making an exceptional amount of noise for a late-night host this season. As a rule, when a late-night host makes this much racket, it’s about himself getting pushed out of his program — like Conan O’Brien, when NBC pushed him aside to bring Jay Leno back to Tonight in 2010, and Leno, when NBC decided to push him aside to give Tonight to Fallon this season. Kimmel’s been doing it with stunts that are media crack — like opening the TV season by closing down Hollywood Blvd. for a free Paul McCartney mini-concert the same night Tonight welcomed Justin Timberlake, who talked about President Obama but did not perform because he felt under the weather — and he was scheduled to perform his own JKL mini-concert for fans on Hollywood Blvd the next night. Kimmel’s also enlisted his crack video team, punking millions with a fake Worst Twerk Fail EVER video on YouTube, and, more recently, a video mocking Kanye West, Most Thin-Skinned Celebrity in America, that, predictably, sparked an all-out Twitter war between the two. Last night, Kimmel insisted the feud wasn’t a hoax — he did not insist it wasn’t a carefully thought-out gambit by JKL. The result? When West showed up on Kimmel to kiss and make up, kinda, JKL bagged its biggest demo ratings yet since moving into Tonight‘s time slot with a broadcast that did not have an NBA Finals lead-in.
All this Kimmel noise started paying off immediately. JKL kicked off Premiere Week of the 2013-2014 season (week of September 23, 2013) with its biggest-ever opening-week audience — up 36% in total viewers over premiere week last year, which was the largest gains over last year of any late-night broadcast talk show. Kimmel also nabbed his best demo ratings for an opening week in six years.
Kimmel’s show, which made its debut on January 26, 2003, following Super Bowl XXXVII, moved to the 11:35 PM time slot on January 8, putting the show in direct competition with Leno, David Letterman, Stephen Colbert, and Conan O’Brien.