Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno

NBC Photo: Paul Drinkwater

And the good news keeps on coming for Jimmy Kimmel. A week after he proposed to girlfriend Molly McNearney, ABC today announced that it is moving Jimmy Kimmel Live up to 11:35 p.m., putting it in direct head-to-head competition with The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Show With David Letterman. The move will be effective Jan. 8.

"I am excited, honored, and grateful to ABC for this strong vote of confidence, inexplicable as it may be," says Kimmel. And while the host might claim to be perplexed, the move makes perfect sense to ABC.

The net is shifting its late-night schedule to capitalize on Kimmel's ratings momentum and ad demand.

Jimmy Kimmel Live has its most-watched season in five years during the 2011-12 season, growing 3 percent in its overall audience, and it was the only late-night broadcast talk show to grow year over year in total viewers. In addition to his ratings success, Kimmel is set to host the Emmys Awards in September. There might also be a perceived softness with current late-night kingpin Leno, who lost several staffers last week even after he took a pay cut.

With Kimmel moving up, that means Nightline is being pushed back, settling in the 12:35 a.m. slot.

"The time is right for Kimmel to make this move…he's ready, and so is his audience," says Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment Group. "For the past 10 years we've built the foundation for this shift, and we'll be celebrating the New Year as only Jimmy Kimmel can...with that unique brand of humor and universal wit that has endeared him to fans of all ages."

And the late-night fight is on.

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