Jimmy Kimmel Unplugged: Why He Hasn't Spoken to Leno, Doesn't Watch Conan and Still Worships Letterman

 Wesley Mann

For the new summer double issue out Thursday, senior writer Lacey Rose takes you behind the scenes as Jimmy Kimmel speaks out on Jay Leno (again), discusses his late-night rivals and opens up about the slow-but-steady ratings climb that has turned this one-time slacker into a sleeper success.

Among the revelations in this in-depth profile:

LETTERMAN SPEAKS OUT ON KIMMEL'S MAN CRUSH

Some kids obsess over toys; others over dolls. Kimmel did so over David Letterman, then the host of NBC's Late Night with David Letterman. "I mean, I'd draw Dave's face on every book cover," Kimmel says of his idol, adding details of his Late Night jacket, birthday cake, vanity plate and letter currently hanging in his office.  

In turn, the usually press shy Letterman shared his thoughts on Kimmel, telling THR in an email, "Jimmy Kimmel, a lovely man, really.  Always kind to me, which means more than you could know to a man of my age.  Did I mention likeable?  Well, Jimmy wrote the book (on likeability). Did I mention funny? Well Jimmy wrote the book (on likeability).  I can’t tell you what a shock his passing has been to me and my family.  We won’t see the likes of him again anytime soon."

To see exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from THR's cover photo shoot atop Hollywood's historic El Capitan theater, watch below.

KIMMEL ON HIS "AWKWARD" TONIGHT SHOW APPEARANCE AND WHY NO CONAN VIEWING

Kimmel opens up about the late night wars, and how it felt to stand up to late night's bully, Jay Leno. "I would be lying if I said it wasn't a lot of fun," he says, acknowledging that he was nervous. He adds, “Jay Leno knows that he is supposed to get ratings, that is his goal,” adds Kimmel. “I think that's a secondary goal for the rest of us. Our goal is to be funny and cooler or edgier.” 

Following the fallout between Conan and Leno, Kimmel did an entire show dressed up as Leno, a performance that elicited an invitation to come on Leno’s show the following night. Kimmel accepted, and then spent interview verbally attacking Leno. (Weeks later, Leno told Oprah that he had been “sucker punched” by the ABC host.) A year and a half later, Kimmel feels little remorse. Instead, he shares his memories of the period. “I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a lot of fun. I was very nervous, but it was thrilling, it really was,” he tells THR. Interestingly, Kimmel has only met Conan O’Brien once and admits he doesn’t watch any of the competition, for fear of being influenced.

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THE SHOW NOW GENERATES NEARLY $100 MILLION FROM TV ADS, AND ANOTHER $1 MILLION TO $2 MILLION OFF YOUTUBE 

Jimmy Kimmel Live! rakes in nearly $100 million annually in TV ad revenue, and another $1 million to $2 million from Kimmel's popular YouTube channel. The latter adds nearly 50 videos a week, with stand-outs like "Jimmy Surprises Bieber Fan" and "I’m F—cking Matt Damon” viewed more than 30 million times. For his part, Kimmel earned an estimated $8 million a year.


KIMMEL SHARED NIXED NAMES FOR THE SHOW WITH THR

Kimmel shared a humorous, decade-old notebook page that reveals a list of 30-plus names that he had dreamed up for his ABC show. Among the early contenders: “Good Night America,” “One Night Stand” and “Late Live Weird Show.”

KIMMEL'S FIRST BOSS DISHES ON WHY HE FIRED KIMMEL

Jimmy’s first boss from his days in radio talks to THR about firing a then young and irreverent Kimmel. Among the tales he shares: Kimmel put his feet up on his boss' desk with two words directed at this boss on the bottom of his shows: ‘F--- You.’ 

JKL'S WINNING BOOKING STRATEGY: “INSIDER” GUESTS, BIG BANDS AND WHO IS LEFT ON THE WISH LIST

The feature takes a look at Kimmel's celebrity booking strategy, offering a sidebar on how the show had lead late night's music renaissance. Still on Kimmel's dream guest list: Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld and Letterman, among others. His music booker, Scott Igoe, is holding out Elton John, Rush and more.

Igoe also reveals which bands will never be back on Kimmel's stage, including Hoobastank, who Igoe says is one of only two bands in the show's history booed. The other is Def Leppard, who came on the show and "did seven songs, not one of which was a hit."

Read the full Jimmy Kimmel cover story in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

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