For a guy who insists he doesn’t “hate” Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel nevertheless compared Leno to the seemingly unkillable “Jason” from “Friday the 13th” and accused Leno of “scheming” to “take” “The Tonight Show” away from Kimmel’s idol, David Letterman.
Kimmel, 45, made his remarks about both Leno and Letterman during a telephone news conference with reporters on Wednesday in which Kimmel talked about the long-awaited move of his show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” to weeknights at 11:35 p.m. eastern on Jan. 8. The move will place Kimmel in direct competition with a late-night host he evidently distrusts — Leno, 62 — and one he has admired all his life — Letterman, 65.
“I don’t hate him or anything like that,” Kimmel said of Leno, under questioning from Xfinity. In fact, said Kimmel, the only time he really thinks about Leno, or talks about him, is when he’s asked about Leno by reporters.
“I will say that 99 percent of the thinking and talking I do about Jay Leno comes when I’m doing an interview because otherwise I don’t think much about him and I don’t talk much about him,” Kimmel said. “And people ask me about him constantly and I feel like … I mean, there’s nothing I dislike more than a guest that won’t answer [a] question, so I feel compelled to answer questions when I’m asked them. So it may seem, if you read about me, that I’m obsessed with Jay Leno. I promise you that I’m not.”
We’ve been fascinated by Kimmel’s outspokenness about Leno ever since last summer, when we saw Kimmel on-stage at a community center in New York City where he was interviewed by New York Times reporter Bill Carter — who has written two books about the late-night TV wars. When Carter asked Kimmel what he thought of Leno, Kimmel answered, “F— him!”
On Wednesday, we asked Kimmel why he dislikes Leno so much. And Kimmel explained that it had to do with his lifelong admiration for Letterman, who Leno outmaneuvered for “The Tonight Show.”
“For me, when the book ‘The Late Shift’ came out [Carter’s 1994 book about Leno and Letterman’s battle to succeed Johnny Carson], I realized that Jay had schemed to take something from someone that I admired,” Kimmel said. “I mean, that’s what did it for me, I guess. The scheming seems to have continued,” Kimmel said, referring to the way Leno seemed to wrest “The Tonight Show” away from Conan O’Brien in 2010. “But look, Jay’s just another guy doing a TV show. I don’t hate him or anything like that.”
Kimmel made the reference to Jason and “Friday the 13th” when he was asked to comment on rumors that NBC is already planning to replace Leno with Jimmy Fallon some time in 2014. (This possibility was raised in a New York Daily News column here.)
“The fact of the matter is, NBC is going to have to make a decision at some point [about moving Fallon to “The Tonight Show”],” Kimmel said. “As much as he would like it to be the case, Jay Leno is not going to be able to stay on television forever. And obviously, I think, Jimmy Fallon is the heir-apparent and he’s doing a great show. So it makes sense that people would talk like this.
“But,” Kimmel cautioned, “with that said, never count Jay out. He’s like Jason in ‘Friday the 13th’! He seems to pop up just when you think he’s dead. He comes back to life and he’s got a hatchet!”