“I have too much respect for Dave to do anything that would distract viewers from watching his final show. Plus I’ll probably be crying all day, which makes it hard to work,” Kimmel emailed NYT by way of making the news.
Two minutes earlier, nobody covering the TV industry thought Letterman’s time-slot competition should stand down on May 20. After Kimmel’s email, reporters wondered whether NBC too would stand down that night, in deference to Dave.
Kimmel’s nice gesture is an important optic for a late-night host who has billed himself as the ultimate Letterman obsessive, confessing onstage at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to the late-night legend that his own childhood had included Letterman birthday cakes and vanity license plates.
Historically, late night competitors don’t play that nicely together. For Jay Leno’s second Tonight Show finale, Letterman and Kimmel both were in originals. For Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show finale, Letterman aired an original and ABC’s Nightline did too, followed by an original Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Jay’s first Tonight Show exit played opposite a Letterman repeat (it was Memorial Day week) and a Nightline original.
And, with regard to Johnny Carson’s final night as host of Tonight Show, Nightline aired an original in the time slot and CBS aired something called CBS Late 1, which may have been CBS’s Crimetime after Primetime. Anyway, it was listed as an original that night.