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ABC denies Kimmel slot shift

This is one of those stories that a network will deny until it's true.

This isn't to say it will happen. "Nightline" is much cheaper to produce than "Jimmy Kimmel Live." And it's generally safer to be selling X in a time period than be one of three networks trying to sell Y.

Still, the industry sense is that ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson finds this idea tempting because of the rare and deep sea change under way in late-night represents his network's best chance to seize control of the post-prime hours. And remember McPherson is a demonstrated fan of making bold, aggressive scheduling gestures -- moving "Grey's Anatomy" against "CSI," filling Wednesdays with three new shows in 2007, being the first network in years to counterprogram the Super Bowl. 

So it wouldn't be surprising if "Kimmel Live" moved to 11:35 p.m., and wouldn't be surprising if it did not. Be a bummer for Conan O'Brien, though. He said at TCA that he's "a Darwin guy," that "when conditions get tougher it gives you an opportunity to get better." ABC moving Kimmel into his time slot would be yet another opportunity.

Here's THR's Paul J. Gough with more on the subject:

ABC executives late Wednesday denied a published report thatsuggested ABC Entertainment was considering moving "Jimmy Kimmel Live"into the coveted 11:35 p.m. slot to go head-to-head with "The TonightShow With Conan O'Brien."

The New York Times said Wednesday that the entertainment division"has held discussions" about the move but also quoted Disney-ABCTelevision Group president Anne Sweeney as saying that it wasspeculative and no move was contemplated this year. But it was anothersignal that "Nightline," which has survived many near-death experiencesin the past decade, could be threatened.

An ABC source who declined to be identified said that there had beenno conversations between the entertainment and news divisions aboutwhether "Jimmy Kimmel Live" would move into the prized 11:35 p.m. slot.

"Zero," the executive said.

The report highlighted what seems to be a discord between ABCEntertainment and ABC News over the future of the 11:35 p.m. time slot.For nearly three decades it has been the province of "Nightline," butABC executives may see a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make hayagainst the late-night switch at NBC to O'Brien, who will be takingover for Jay Leno when the latter moves to 10 p.m.

Kimmel, a favorite of ABC entertainment executives, is criticallyacclaimed but ratings-challenged between 12:05 a.m. and 1:05 a.m.

It's not the first time that the plucky newsmagazine has beenwritten off for dead. "Nightline" under Ted Koppel was imperiled in2002 when the heads of the network tried to lure David Letterman awayfrom CBS to compete directly against NBC's late-night talk king, Leno.Koppel eventually left "Nightline," causing the show to once again bewritten off for dead. But in the three years under executive producerJames Goldston and co-anchors Cynthia McFadden, Martin Bashir and TerryMoran, "Nightline" has been reborn, not only holding its audience butincreasing its viewership. It has beaten "Late Show With DavidLetterman" seven weeks this season in ratings, and even toppledperennial leader "Tonight" once.

"Nightline" was up 10 percent in the fourth quarter compared with ayear earlier, while Kimmel's show was down 3 percent in its time slot ahalf-hour later. Kimmel's 1.8 million viewers at 12:05 a.m. ranks himsixth among all late-night programs, slightly behind "Late Late ShowWith Craig Ferguson" (1.9 million) but well ahead of "Later With CarsonDaly" (1.1 million). "Nightline" in the fourth quarter was about evenwith Letterman for second place.