This month’s New York magazine profile of late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel focuses on his forays into political commentary and fawningly (and ironically) compares him to Walter Cronkite speaking out against the Vietnam War. A close reading suggests Kimmel is less of a progressive truth-teller than remarkably shrewd about not only the role politics has come to play on his program, but also the potential impact the Harvey Weinstein scandal may have on his career.
When Kimmel is asked whether he has alienated people on the Right, he responds: “I think I’ve alienated more people than I’ve brought onboard. But what I thought was important was telling the truth.” Yet when the interviewer later reminds Kimmel that his ratings are up, he is forced to agree, but adds: “Eighty percent of late-night-television success is how well your network is doing at ten o’clock.”
There is an element of truth here, but as Kimmel himself acknowledges elsewhere in the interview, controversy also can drive an audience: “there’s absolutely nothing better for ratings than a sh-tstorm.” He said this in discussing “The Man Show,” which Kimmel co-created and co-hosted at the turn of the century. The comic is carefully and subtly rewriting this chapter in his career.