‘Politically Incorrect’ Canceled; ABC Goes With Jimmy Kimmel
Jimmy Kimmel, another affable, beer-drinking comedian with a Peter Pan complex, was introduced Tuesday as ABC’s new late-night talk-show host, making official ABC’s dismissal of “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” which has been dying on the vine for some months.
The announcement came at an annual gathering of media buyers in New York, where the broadcast networks are unveiling their new fall prime-time lineups.
As Kimmel was being trotted out before media buyers, Maher said in an interview with The Times, “I don’t mind being canceled. It’s actually time to move on. My hair was embarrassing when I started; now it’s just gray.”
Indications are that “P.I.” will likely exit before the July 4 holiday, while Kimmel’s talk show isn’t slated to make its debut until Jan. 27, the Monday after ABC broadcasts the Super Bowl. In the interim, ABC announced that a half-hour extension of “Nightline,” called “Nightline Close-Up,” will air weeknights at 12:05 a.m. beginning sometime this summer.
“P.I.” came to ABC in 1997 from Comedy Central, where for four years it had built momentum as a hybrid form of talk show, using a combination of celebrities, writers and pundits to take on hot-button issues. Fresh as that format was, it always hindered the show’s ability to get A-list celebrity guests--stars who were more than willing to discuss their new movie but less so their feelings about, say, abortion.
In the end, it was a comment by Maher that seemed to doom the show. During a charged on-air discussion six days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Maher argued with the suggestion that the hijackers were cowards, adding, “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away.”
“They have been pretending since Sept. 17 that I don’t exist,” Maher said of ABC.
The comments eventually caused a public-relations firestorm: Major sponsors, including Sears Roebuck & Co. and FedEx Corp., pulled their ads, and some affiliates yanked “P.I.” off the air.
Some of those stations, including the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., never returned, though “P.I.'s” ratings have generally been holding steady, with the show averaging roughly 2.5 million viewers per night.
“No one will ever convince me that there’s not a connection between saying things that are controversial and losing your place at the podium,” said Maher, who had run afoul of sponsors in the past. “Don’t they have advertiser problems on all of their shows now? We didn’t go off because the ratings went down.... Ours certainly didn’t go down, and last week they were way up.... So if it’s not that, then obviously the answer lies in the world of Faye Resnick.”
Lloyd Braun, co-chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group (who formerly worked for Maher’s managers at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment), separated Maher’s Sept. 17 comments from ABC’s decision to cancel the show.
“That’s been a terrific show for us,” Braun said. “Bill Maher has been tireless in his efforts.”
According to sources, ABC has insisted to producers that the network was losing money on the show and wanted to land a personality who would give the network a bigger entertainment presence in late night.
In March, ABC made a widely publicized play for CBS’ David Letterman, a move that would have supplanted both “P.I.” and “Nightline.” Now “Nightline’s” new companion show will be anchored by Kimmel, best-known as co-host of Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” which debuted in 1999 as a boldfaced attempt to draw in 18-to-34-year-old males.
“Please do not breathe a word of this to Ted Koppel,” Kimmel told advertisers Tuesday, referring to the “Nightline” host.
“The Man Show” features girls on trampolines and sketches spoofing various regular-guy pursuits. Braun stressed during a conference call with reporters that the network wasn’t acquiring the show’s format, as it had with “Politically Incorrect,” calling Kimmel “a very unique talent.”
A Comedy Central spokesperson said the future of “The Man Show” is uncertain. Kimmel and co-host Adam Carolla will tape 20 more episodes to air later this year, and the pair are also behind the Comedy Central series “Crank Yankers,” in which puppets reenact prank phone calls, which premieres in June.
One person who might be watching Kimmel’s new show is Maher. “I’m glad it went to someone we used a lot as a guest on our show,” he said. “There’s a guy I can truly be happy for. I watch ‘The Man Show.’ I’ve probably seen every ‘Man Show’ they’ve ever made.”
Maher said he is in talks about hosting a new television show, though he declined to offer specifics. “I don’t mind at all losing my job,” he said. “If it came down to a choice between losing my job and losing my soul, I’m glad I lost my job.”
Times Staff Writer Elizabeth Jensen contributed to this story.