The show began on January 26, 2003, replacing Politically Incorrect; ABC had originally intended to give Jon Stewart his own late-night program following Nightline, but Kimmel was chosen instead. The show, stunted early on by an ABC affiliate body which was fulfilling existing syndication contracts for post-local news sitcom and entertainment newsmagazines and thus delaying the show (and making the "Live!" title somewhat of a misnomer), started behind the ratings of Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, but gradually moved up in the ratings into 2004, and became a fairly strong competitor, capturing about half the audience of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! is ABC's first attempt at a traditional late-night talk show since its attempt to revive The Dick Cavett Show in the 1980s. ABC had earlier attempted to directly compete with NBC's Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the 1960s and 1970s with The Les Crane Show, which was more of a serious interview program than light entertainment, The Joey Bishop Show (1967–1969), featuring Rat Pack member Joey Bishop with Regis Philbin as sidekick, the original Dick Cavett Show (1969–1975) with Dick Cavett in a show that featured a mixture of cultural, popular entertainment and intellectual figures and was considered more highbrow than Carson and even a short-lived revival of NBC's Tonight Starring Jack Paar under the name Jack Paar Tonite, which alternated weeks with Cavett in 1973. While Cavett was the longest-lasting and best remembered of these attempts, none seriously threatened the domination of the Tonight Show. ABC's long-running Nightline series which premiered in 1979 during the Iran hostage crisis and continued at 11:30 until 2013 was able to compete with the Tonight Show, however, particularly on days when there were major news events or ongoing crises. The growth and development of cable news and the emergence of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle eroded Nightline's originally unique, and later preeminent position as a source for late evening national and international news and its value as a counterprogramming against Tonight and other late-night talk shows. As a result, in 2012, Nightline switched places on ABC's schedule with Jimmy Kimmel Live!. At the start of 2019, when Hearst Television's newest affiliation agreement for their ABC affiliates kicked in and forced them to give up their ability to delay the program for extended local newscasts or syndicated programming, the show now airs across the network on most stations at 11:35 p.m. ET/10:35 p.m. CT.
Despite its name, the show has not regularly aired live since 2004, when censors were unable to properly bleep censor a barrage of swearing from actor Thomas Jane. For special nights such as the Oscar show, it does air live, but with a broadcast delay of a few seconds.
The show's house band is Cleto and the Cletones, led by saxophonist Cleto Escobedo III, a childhood friend of Kimmel. The other "Cletones" of the band are Cleto Escobedo Jr., the bandleader's father, on tenor and alto saxophone, Jeff Babko on keyboards, Toshi Yanagi on guitar, Jimmy Earl on bass, and Jonathan Dresel on drums. Like other talk shows with live bands, Cleto and the Cletones play the show's opening and closing themes and play into and out of commercial breaks. (They usually play through the entire break for the studio audience.) The show's opening theme was written by Les Pierce, Jonathan Kimmel and Cleto Escobedo III and sung by Robert Goulet.
The show originally had guest co-hosts each week who would sit at the desk with Kimmel and participate in skits and questioning each night's guests. The show also featured guest announcers, until comedian Andy Milonakis took over as the show's announcer from late 2003 to 2004. He would also appear in comedy bits for the show. Then in 2004, Mighty Mighty Bosstones singer Dicky Barrett took over as the show's announcer when the Bosstones went on hiatus. The band has since become active again, and performed live on the show in 2009. Since its inception, stand-up comedian Don Barris has performed as the warmup comic for the in-studio audience, although he rarely appears on camera; before joining JKL, Barris was the warmup comic for The Man Show.
Francis "Uncle Frank" Potenza, Kimmel's real-life uncle, served as a security guard for the show, and appeared regularly in bits on-camera with Kimmel and other employees of the show. He was a New York City police officer and a personal security guard for Frank Sinatra. Potenza did not appear regularly from December 2009 through March 2010, due to illness. (In the interim, he did appear on the seventh anniversary show on January 26, 2010.) However, he later returned as a semi-regular. Potenza died on August 23, 2011, at the age of 77.
Guillermo Rodriguez is the parking lot security guard for the show, and frequently serves as a celebrity gossip correspondent in a segment called "Guillermo's Hollywood Round-Up." Veatrice Rice was another parking lot security guard who had several of her own segments on the show until her death from cancer on January 21, 2009.
Kimmel and Matt Damon
Frequently at the end of the show, Kimmel thanks the guests as usual, but then adds, "Our apologies to Matt Damon, we ran out of time." Kimmel told TMZ.com that he says this "for no good reason at all," continuing, "A star like Matt Damon would never be scheduled to appear near the end of the show where he can be bumped." Damon told Parade magazine that Kimmel said he first did it at a low moment at the end of a show which had substandard guests. The show's producer liked the joke, and Kimmel continued to do it on subsequent shows for their amusement.
“The first time I met Jimmy was when I went to do the prime-time show. For a year he’d been saying, ‘My apologies to Matt Damon; we ran out of time.’ So he came backstage, and I asked him what that was about. And he was like, ‘You want to know what happened? I was doing a particularly lame show; I think my guests were a ventriloquist and a guy in a monkey suit. We were wrapping it up, and there was a smattering of applause in the audience. I was having kind of a low moment, and I just said, ‘My apologies to Matt Damon; we ran out of time.’ My producer was right off camera and he doubled over laughing. It was just gallows humor. Nobody else got the joke. But it made us laugh, so we started doing it every night. I have no idea why I said you; it could have been anybody.’"
- Matt Damon
On September 12, 2006, Damon appeared on the show. A montage of clips demonstrating the numerous times Kimmel performed the bit was shown and, after a very lengthy introduction by Kimmel, Damon appeared on stage. After a few seconds, Kimmel apologized and stated that the show was out of time. He asked Damon if he could return the next night, to which Damon replied, "Go f**k yourself." An infuriated Damon continued to curse at Kimmel throughout the rolling of the credits, ultimately slapping the desk and walking off the set. In the December 17, 2006 issue of USA Weekend, Kimmel acknowledged that the Damon incident was a joke. In the show which aired on June 5, 2007, Kimmel sent his sidekick Guillermo to the Ocean's Thirteen premiere to interview Damon, though when he started the interview, he said that they were out of time, at which point Damon assumed that Kimmel sent him. In the August 2, 2007 episode, Kimmel then announced that Guillermo was taking on the role of Jason Bourne, who was played by Damon, for The Bourne Ultimatum. A clip was shown in which Guillermo was playing Bourne, until Damon showed up and thought that Kimmel was now trying to bump him from his movie. Damon tried to chase Guillermo but Guillermo slapped him and jumped through a wall. In Kimmel's 2010 post-Oscar show, he featured a clip called "The Handsome Men's Club," which ended with Damon telling Kimmel, "We're all out of time," then bursting into evil laughter after Kimmel was ejected from the club for not being handsome enough.
Damon was part of the all-star cast assembled by Kimmel for his 2012 Oscars parody, which was a mock trailer for a non-existent blockbuster called Movie: The Movie. Damon appears briefly in a full grape suit, only to be informed his scene had been cut from the "film" after which he is shown storming out of the studio (as part of the trailer), cursing at Kimmel.
In August 2013, Guillermo crashed a Matt Damon interview, about his upcoming movie Elysium, by promoting his own movie called "Estupido", about a stupid man, which poster had an arrow pointing towards Matt Damon. At the end of the interview, Matt removed the poster, revealing on the other side the name of another Guillermo movie called "Ass Face", also with an arrow pointing towards Matt. Matt accuses Guillermo of acting on Kimmel's orders and, facing the camera, starts to say "you...", at which time it cuts to Guillermo's promo which ends with Matt's face turning into an ass.
During Kimmel's 2016 post-Oscar special, Ben Affleck wore a very large coat for his appearance, and Damon emerged from the coat for the interview. However, he was removed from the studio by an enraged Kimmel, who then moved on to interview Affleck. Later, Damon appeared in a sketch about the movie that Affleck stars in, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, reprising his role as astronaut Mark Watney.
When Kimmel hosted the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, 2017, he renewed his feud with Damon, first in a skit harshly criticizing Damon's film We Bought a Zoo, having the announcer introduce him as only the unnamed "guest" of Ben Affleck, and personally conducting the orchestra to play him off while Damon was talking (before announcing the nominees and award winner).
"I'm Fucking Matt Damon" video
In a segment that aired on January 31, 2008, Kimmel's then long-time girlfriend Sarah Silverman appeared on the show and announced, via a music video, that she had been "Fucking Matt Damon." Damon took an additional jab at Kimmel's long running gag by telling Kimmel at the end of the video, "Jimmy, we're out of time. Sorry." On February 24, on Kimmel's third post-Oscar show, he debuted his rebuttal video announcing that he's "fucking Ben Affleck". Kimmel introduced his star-studded musical by addressing Damon and vowing, "You take something I love from me, I’m gonna take something you love from you." Affleck is Damon's longtime acting and writing collaborator; the two first became prominent as such for Good Will Hunting and later channeled this collaboration into Project Greenlight.
In addition to Affleck, the video featured Robin Williams, Don Cheadle, Harrison Ford, William Shatner, Hynden Walch, Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, Benji Madden and Joel Madden from Good Charlotte, Dicky Barrett, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Lance Bass, Dominic Monaghan, Meat Loaf, Pete Wentz, Joan Jett, Huey Lewis, Perry Farrell, Macy Gray, Rebecca Romijn, Josh Groban, Jessica DiCicco, and unnamed choir singers as recording booth singers, along with Brad Pitt as a delivery man. The video gained widespread media attention, with Kimmel jokingly telling the New York Times, "Every once in a while, Hollywood rallies itself for a worthy cause." On its end-of-the-decade "best-of" list, Entertainment Weekly put Damon as an action star at No. 60 and the Silverman video on No. 62, writing, "A talk-show host's famous comedian girlfriend confesses in a catchy song that she's shtupping No. 60? Yeah, that'll go viral."
In late February 2008, Quick Stop Entertainment premiered a parody video entitled "I'm F**king Seth Rogen" as a promotion for Zack and Miri Make a Porno. The Seth Rogen version was unedited. The videos have also been parodied in a scene at the end of Disaster Movie; in the original version all the characters sing that they're "dating" each other, but in the uncensored DVD version they all sing they're "f**king" each other.
In July 2008, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced that "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" had received a Creative Arts Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics, competing against two songs from the Flight of the Conchords show, one from MADtv, and another from Phineas and Ferb. It won in that category, as well as for editing. Silverman, who accepted the award, thanked Damon who, she stated, had little to do with the video's popularity, and Kimmel "who broke my heart—who will have a special place in my heart."
Jimmy Kimmel Sucks!
For the 10th anniversary episode on January 24, 2013, Damon took over hosting duties; for the occasion, the show was renamed Jimmy Kimmel Sucks! The episode began with a sequence of clips showing Kimmel "bumping" Damon, and continued with Damon taking command of the show, while Kimmel was tied to a chair and gagged for the remainder of the episode. Damon then replaced Guillermo with Andy Garcia and bandleader Cleto with Sheryl Crow, before bringing in Robin Williams to do the monologue.
The show had numerous guests, including Nicole Kidman, Gary Oldman, Amy Adams, Reese Witherspoon, Demi Moore, and Sarah Silverman, along with an on-screen cameo by Ben Affleck during Damon's monologue. There were also numerous taped pieces congratulating Damon on hosting, including by Jennifer Lopez, Sally Field, John Krasinski, Robert De Niro, Don Cheadle, Oprah Winfrey, and Kimmel's parents. Damon also "revealed" that Kimmel keeps "bumping" Damon out of jealousy: a clip shows Kimmel's unsuccessful attempts to audition for all movie roles that Damon played. At the episode's end, Damon turns the "We ran out of time" joke on Kimmel after asking Kimmel if he had anything to say. The episode was the highest-rated late night show that evening, and ABC elected to rebroadcast it in primetime the following week.
Jay Leno parody
Kimmel performed an entire show in character as Jay Leno
during the 2010 Tonight Show
During the 2010 Tonight Show conflict, Kimmel donned a gray wig and fake chin, performing his entire January 12, 2010 show in character as Jay Leno. With his bandleader, Cleto Escobedo, parodying Leno's bandleader Kevin Eubanks, Kimmel started out his monologue with "It’s good to be here on ABC. Hey, Cleto, you know what ABC stands for? Always Bump Conan." He also referenced the "People of Earth" letter written by Conan O'Brien, noting how O'Brien declined to participate in the "destruction" of The Tonight Show, commenting as Leno that "Fortunately, though, I will! I'll burn it down if I have to!" Leno called Kimmel the next morning to discuss the bit, and at the end of the call, Leno suggested he come over and appear on his show. When his booking department called to confirm his appearance on a "10 at 10" segment, Kimmel agreed immediately. When he received the questions for his January 14 appearance—such as "What's your favorite snack junk food?"—he realized Leno intended to neutralize the scathing parody and paint the two as friends.
Kimmel, however, was upfront with wanting to discuss the fiasco at hand, and upon his appearance, attempted to steer the questions that way: when asked about his favorite prank, he responded, "I think the best prank I ever pulled was, I told a guy once, 'Five years from now I'm going to give you my show.' And then when the five years came, I gave it to him and I took it back, almost instantly." Another example came from when Leno asked, "Ever order anything off the TV?" Kimmel replied, "Like when NBC ordered your show off the TV?"
Following similar remarks to more questions, Kimmel closed the segment with this comment: "Listen, Jay. Conan and I have children. All you have to take care of is cars! We have lives to lead here! You've got eight hundred million dollars! For God's sakes, leave our shows alone!" Leno never fought back and accepted the bit as comedy (he ascribed it as Kimmel attempting to score some publicity), but Leno's producer, Debbie Vickers, was furious.
Kimmel discussed the appearance during an interview with Marc Maron for the latter's podcast in 2012. Kimmel stated that he felt O'Brien was not given a proper chance, but that he was also motivated by his own history with Leno. According to Kimmel, Leno had some years prior been in serious discussions with ABC about the possibility of jumping ship from NBC. During this period, Leno initiated a friendship with Kimmel, wanting to ensure that they would be on good terms if the move was made. (Under that scenario, Leno would have taken Kimmel's time slot and become his lead-in.) However, after Leno made the arrangement to remain at NBC, "those conversations were gone," according to Kimmel. Realizing that Leno's relationship with him had been artificial, Kimmel felt "worked over," reasoning that Leno was using the ABC discussions as a bargaining tactic to try to get his old job back.
The stage where the show is taped has gone through many changes, from the addition of a platform in front of the stage for Kimmel to do his monologue, to various stage backgrounds. In January 2005, the show's original set, at the TV studio in the Hollywood Masonic Temple (now known as the El Capitan Entertainment Centre), which had video screens in the background and the band performing on the left side of the stage, was replaced with the current set, which has a city in the background. The band now performs on the right side of the stage.
In the special February 25, 2007 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! (the second "After the Academy Awards" show), the second set was slightly tweaked when an illustrated picture of a city, which was seen in the background from January 2005 to February 2007, was replaced with a 3D collage of Los Angeles and Hollywood (including the adjacent Dolby Theatre (formerly Kodak Theatre) across from the studio where his show is broadcast from). The 3D image, which was first used during Lionel Richie's outdoor stage performances in the September 16, 2006 episode, was created by artists Colin Cheer and Brian Walters.
A brand-new set was unveiled January 8, 2013, coinciding with the show's move to the earlier 11:35 p.m. timeslot. The new set is similar to the previous one, though the desk and chairs are no longer a stationary set element, and are only brought out for the guest interviews. Later, the traditional city duratrans was replaced with a large floor-to-ceiling curved video display known as the "Wall of America", which most of the time displays the traditional background, but is now also able to be used for video pieces and bits, along with interviews (including ones where Kimmel is not at his desk; an instance of this was an interview through Cisco's Jabber Guest with actress Viola Davis after the first-season finale of How to Get Away With Murder in February 2015 where she was unable to fly to Los Angeles from the East Coast due to weather issues) which are branded under Cisco Systems's telepresence technology. The desk/chairs component of the set is also not permanently staged unlike most talk shows, being quickly built on-stage only after Kimmel has finished his monologue, skits and bits at center stage.
The Jimmy Kimmel Live Concert Series segment comprises a musical performance at the end of the show, which is performed either in a more intimate space on the second floor of the Masonic Temple, or a nearby outdoor stage, along with rare on-location performances. Coors Light sponsored most of the show's musical performances from 2004 to 2006. In June 2005, the show partnered with Pontiac for its concerts, which were held on the "Pontiac Garage" outdoor stage in Hollywood, until the sponsor's parent company, General Motors, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and announced the termination of the brand. Beginning in October 2009, Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light (initially Bud Light Golden Wheat in 2009–10) replaced Pontiac as the segment's sponsor. In January 2013, Sony took over sponsorship. In 2014, AT&T took over sponsorship, then in 2015 Samsung replaced AT&T as the segment's sponsor, in 2016 Cîroc replaced Samsung as the segment's sponsor and in 2017 Mercedes-Benz became the segment's sponsor.