Screen Savors: Late night, light

You can't judge a book by its cover or a TV show from one episode - but we try anyway with 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!'

kimmel (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Jimmy Kimmel seems like a nice guy. He's as polite as anything, and his guests seem very comfortable sitting on the chairs next to him, in the traditional TV late night tableau. But that's about as much as I can say for his ABC entertainment show, recently introduced as HOT 3's nightly closing program. Truth be told, it's hard to judge such a show on just one episode, since it often depends on whether or not you're interested in the guests. But HOT's decision to essentially replace David Letterman with Kimmel is more a reflection on the cable company's overall repackaging of its channels than a knock on Kimmel - giving us something new, but not necessarily better. In some cases, it's not even new. For example, as viewer Gail Goldstein points out, giving the channels new names, like HOT Zone, doesn't exactly make an impression when you're showing SeaQuest DSV during prime time, the Roy Scheider underwater sci-fi show that went off the air in 1996… And just because AXN was taken off doesn't mean we still need to see Renegade three times a day, does it? We all love ER, but running it on "the new" Channel 3 would be more impressive if it were a more current season than the fifth. Meanwhile, HOT Family, another "new" channel is showing Gilmore Girls from the beginning - already shown so often on various stations here that it's left a lingering image of Rory on some screens. Back to Kimmel, however, whose show last week featured raunchy actress/comedienne Kathy Griffin, actress Sally Hawkins and a New York comedian who made little if any impression. The monologue is always the key to hooking the audience for the night. Johnny Carson was the king, even going into a soft-shoe and dance if his material bombed. Jay Leno's pretty good with his delivery, although the material isn't always the best. Letterman used to be better, but at least his material is topical and dripping with sarcasm. Too bad Kimmel's not nearly as good an interviewer as Leno. Kimmel's monologue relies way too heavily on taped segments from other shows, be it MTV New Year's Eve commentators who couldn't remember how to count down from 10, to a weatherman falling on the ice, to making fun of a shot of ex-President Bush or counting the number of times (13) the star of the Bachelor used the word "amazing" in one short clip. It's a scan-YouTube approach to a monologue, which has some funny moments, but isn't nearly as cerebral as Carson used to be and Letterman occasional still is. Kimmel's definitely pleasant to watch bantering with the guests, though one gets the feeling that he should put them on the spot or ask more complex questions but it's more of a just-hang-out approach. He's also a bit thin on probing for information. When actress Hawkins was on, he barely got her to tell us where she is from or what her movie Happy-Go-Lucky is about. We didn't even get to see a clip. Instead there were a bunch of dumb questions about who's the most excited in her family about her being nominated and a discussion of whether or not she could bring a guest along to the awards. Hawkins was charming, but viewers got little out of the interview. Besides one spot in which he sent his cousin down with a pizza to a local gym to try to get "people to break their New Year's resolutions" already on the first of January, there weren't any other special spots like Leno's "Jaywalking" or Letterman's "Top Ten List," although, again, we only caught the one show. Overall, it was like a dish of vanilla ice cream with a little chocolate sauce over it - dessert, but not DESSERT. Nothing too out there - except Griffin's obscenity during her New Year's Eve coverage with CNN's Anderson Cooper - not too stimulating. Sort of like HOT Family's Sunday night, which features the incredibly dynamic line-up of Party of Five reruns at 9:50 p.m., those Gilmore Girls reruns at 10:35 p.m., and According to Jim, another boffo smash, at 11:20 p.m. If you're still awake that is. One of our colleagues at work insists that "all change is bad." He may not be right, but if HOT's going to dump Letterman for Kimmel and change all its channels around only to stick us with sub-standard replacements or even the same old things, what was the point? Jimmy Kimmel Live! airs on HOT Channel 3 at 11:45 p.m. and the next morning at 10:10.