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Jimmy Kimmel rides the late-night wave

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
updated 4:46 PM EST, Fri January 25, 2013
The stars turned out Thursday night when Matt Damon
The stars turned out Thursday night when Matt Damon "hijacked" Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jimmy Kimmel's Thursday night show won big ratings
  • Actor Matt Damon "kidnapped" Kimmel and took over the show
  • Kimmel has been challenging the late-night lead of Letterman and Leno

(CNN) -- Remember that messiness when Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien were battling it out on air? Or when Leno and David Letterman used to trade jabs during their monologues?

Neither do we.

These days the late-night focus is on the Jimmys: Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. Fallon has managed to keep fans riveted with expectations over what musical guest might pop up next in a way that hasn't happened since Arsenio Hall left the air (admit it, you sang along when Mariah Carey did "All I Want For Christmas") and capitalized on the boyish charm that made him star of "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live."

Meanwhile Kimmel has been everywhere recently, from the cover of Rolling Stone to ruling the Web on Friday after his "nemesis" Matt Damon took over his show Thursday night in what turned out to be one seriously funny Kimmel roast.

Thursday night's temporarily renamed show, "Jimmy Kimmel Sucks," was the result of a long-time "feud" between Kimmel and the Academy Award winning Damon and helped pull in the viewers. It proved to be so successful that ABC has announced it will re-air the episode during prime time Tuesday night.

According to a press release, the show resulted in Kimmel's highest ratings since his show moved to the 11:35 p.m. time slot this month. It ranked No.1 among late-night talk shows in both households and among the coveted 18-49 demographic, beating "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" by 62% and "The Late Show with David Letterman" by 120%.

But don't expect Kimmel to rave about that fact on his official Twitter account, or anywhere else for that matter. During a recent appearance before a group of television critics, it was announced that Kimmel had beaten Letterman in the ratings.

The Washington Post reported that when asked what it was like to "kill Dave" in the ratings, Kimmel was quick to retort "I'm not killing Dave" and point out that Letterman's ratings had not changed since Kimmel's show replaced "Nightline" in its time slot.

That could be despite the fact that Letterman is his competition, Kimmel has a deep respect for the fellow funnyman.

"If I beat David Letterman in the ratings, does that mean I'm better than Letterman?" Kimmel recently told Rolling Stone. "No f***ing way."

The talk show host had less kind words for Leno, telling the publication, "As a comedian, you can't not have disdain for what he's done: He totally sold out."

Ouch.

So how is Kimmel ensuring that ABC's gamble to move his show from midnight to its new slot to make it more competitive will pay off? At this point, it seems just by being himself and continuing with what has led him to this point.

Kimmel wasn't afraid to show his softer, fan side last Halloween when his hero Letterman appeared on his show. He showed his idol photos of his 18th birthday cake, which sported the "Late Night With David Letterman" logo.

He charmed first lady Michelle Obama when she appeared on his show in October and won rave reviews last year when he hosted both the White House Correspondents Dinner and the Primetime Emmy Awards.

Irma Zandl of the Zandl Group tracks trends and told E! that Kimmel is a bit of the late-night everyman.

"I have always considered Jimmy Kimmel the Gen Y version of Jay Leno," Zandl said. "He has that Midwestern, down-to-earth humor that Leno represented without the Conan weirdness that has such limited appeal."

He also clearly doesn't mind being the butt of the joke as he was Thursday night as celeb friend after celeb friend (including ex-love Sarah Silverman) took shots at him. After all, this is a comic who dressed as a plumber with his crack showing for the cover of Rolling Stone.

Top that, Leno and Letterman.

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