The acid-tongued Maher, never one of Disney's favorite personalities, has seemingly been marked for extinction even before ABC made its ill-fated play for David Letterman earlier this year. While the network has since given a vote of confidence to Ted Koppel and Nightline in the wake of the Letterman gambit, ABC has remained mum on Maher's future--which has convinced Industry watchers that Maher's exit is a fait accompli.
Enter Jimmy Kimmel. The cohost of Comedy Central's The Man Show and former sidekick on Win Ben Stein's Money is being eyed by ABC to replace Maher, the Los Angeles Times reports. Kimmel would get the reins to his own late-night show that would, ABC hopes, attract the coveted 18-34 demo that prefers Kimmel's testosterone-type humor to the celebrities-spewing-forth-on-current-events roundtable favored by Maher.
On The Man Show, Kimmel and partner in crime Adam Carolla satirize the male species in skits about drunken airline pilots and sock-puppet porn while addressing such manly pursuits as topless women, beer and football.
It's still not confirmed whether Kimmel has agreed to leave The Man Show, nor can sources say whether the funnyman will try to recreate his current show's taste-pushing humor for an ABC gig. The Disney-owned network might not go for well-endowed babes bouncing on trampolines. And such antics don't exactly mesh with Nightline, which airs at 11:35 p.m., presumably right before the Kimmel slot.
That ABC is looking to silence Politically Incorrect isn't much of a surprise since Maher got himself into a heap of trouble shortly after 9-11, when he said past U.S. military actions were more cowardly than the terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center.
The crack led White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to publicly scold Maher (remarks Fleischer later retracted) and resulted in sponsors like FedEx and Sears pulling ads from the show. Several affiliates flat out refused to broadcast the show--ironic, considering the show's mission is to bring the people Politically Incorrect views.
(Maher has since picked up more sponsors, but that hasn't changed ABC's opinion of him as a renegade.)
After the imbroglio, ABC began searching for a replacement for Maher, whose contract expires at the end of this season.
With ABC's disdain of Politically Incorrect in the open, the show's brain trust is lashing out at the network.
"They have no clue how to nurture a late-night franchise, and I wish Jimmy Kimmel the best of luck--he's going to need it," Mark Gurvitz, Maher's manager at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, tells the Los Angeles Times. (Gurvitz's company produces P.I. in association with HBO Downtown Productions.)
A spokeswoman for Politically Incorrect had no comment on the report and neither did Kimmel's agent.
Aside from hosting The Man Show for four seasons, Kimmel has also appeared on Fox Sports' pro-football pregame coverage and helped to create Crank Yankers, a new Comedy Central show debuting in June featuring puppets acting out prank phone calls.
ABC will likely make any late-night changes official by May 14, when the network unveils its fall schedule for advertisers.