Jimmy Kimmel is pulling off what Ted Koppel never could in Kansas City.
For decades, Channel 9 has showed sitcom reruns after its 10 o’clock news, delaying national ABC programming for an hour or longer — and irking the network and some viewers in the process. Koppel himself, the original host of “Nightline,” complained about Channel 9 scheduling his news program for midnight or later.
That is about to change.
Starting Dec. 29, KMBC will broadcast “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” at 10:35 weeknights, at the same time it goes out over ABC. “Nightline” will follow at 11:37 p.m.
Meanwhile, popular reruns of comedies “Modern Family” and “The Big Bang Theory,” which have aired at 10:35 and 11:05 p.m. respectively, will vanish from KMBC’s late-night schedule. Both sitcoms won their time slots in the November ratings sweeps.
Industry speculation is that KMBC owner Hearst signed a new affiliation agreement with ABC and that Channel 9 airing the network’s late-night programs “in pattern” was part of the deal.
Sarah Smith, KMBC president and general manager, wouldn’t discuss “proprietary information” such as network contracts. Carrying ABC’s late-night shows earlier has been a discussion topic since she arrived at the station three years ago, she said.
“This has been something that KMBC has not done before because for all those years it was really just KMBC,” she said. But these days Channel 9 also runs sister station KCWE, Channel 29.
“We know there’s an appetite for comedies” after the late news, Smith said. At the same time, some viewers have also asked why KMBC wasn’t running “Kimmel” earlier than 11:35.
“We thought to ourselves, with the strength of KCWE, this gives us the opportunity to do both,” Smith said.
“Big Bang” will now run as a one-hour block at 6 p.m. weeknights on KCWE, and an hour of “Modern Family” will air at 10 p.m.
Channel 9 has programmed repeats of popular network sitcoms in late night at least since the 1980s. “M*A*S*H,” “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” “Roseanne,” “Grace Under Fire,” “Seinfeld” and “Will & Grace,” among others, rode the wave of KMBC’s often top-rated 10 p.m. news.
But change is afoot in late-night TV:
▪ ABC swapped the time periods of “Nightline” and “Jimmy Kimmel” in early 2013, creating a three-way talk show race at 10:35.
▪ Jimmy Fallon replaced Jay Leno as host of “Tonight” on NBC this year.
▪ And David Letterman will leave “Late Show” on CBS in May, to be replaced by Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”
In 1998, Koppel weighed in on the delay of ABC’s “late fringe” programming.
“I think it’s irresponsible on the part of (KMBC) management,” Koppel told The Star then. “I don’t think they can point either to their own financial profit or to the public interest in Kansas City as justifying what they’re doing.”
But the comedies generated “phenomenal” ratings for KMBC, as a former Channel 9 general manager put it back then. The sitcoms were also “part of the station’s history,” he said.
In 2002, The Star reported that ABC execs had tried “pleading, cajoling, harassing and even paying KMBC” to move “Nightline” from 12:05 a.m., when it was then shown, to 10:35.
“They bugged us constantly about it,” Pat Patton, KMBC program director in the 1980s and ’90s, told the newspaper.
Other ABC stations across the country “compete head-to-head with the ‘Tonight’ show and Letterman,” said Darrin McDonald, vice president and general manager at KCTV-5.
Kansas City, though, has been “one of the few weird markets” in which a station aired syndicated shows instead of network fare, McDonald said. “It’s played well for them, so now they’re going to have to compete differently.”
The change might mean audience growth for Channel 5, McDonald added. With the sitcoms gone from Channel 9, he expects some KMBC viewers to sample Letterman’s show.
And once Colbert starts, “it’s a great opportunity for us to get a younger, more relevant audience, although Letterman has done a phenomenal job for many years,” McDonald said.
Smith at KMBC also expects some benefits from running Kimmel, who produced customized promos for the station. Last time she checked, she said, his show was beating Fallon and Letterman in adults 25-54, the demographic beloved by advertisers.
Incidentally, late-night comedies haven’t completely disappeared from KMBC. “Two and a Half Men” repeats — a recent 10:35 staple on Channel 9 — will air at 12:07 a.m., followed by two episodes of “Anger Management,” Charlie Sheen’s current sitcom.