2007 flashback: Jimmy Kimmel finally added to Atlanta airwaves after four years

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

He is celebrating 20 years on the air on January 26, 2023.

Jimmy Kimmel is celebrating his 20th anniversary as ABC’s late-night host next week with several of his original guests like George Clooney and Coldplay and his original co-host Snoop Dogg.

The special will air in primetime at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 26, then repeat at his regular slot at 11:35 p.m.

When Kimmel first started at ABC in 2003, there was a lot of skepticism he would last given his “Man Show” credentials. But he gradually found an audience.

Atlanta’s WSB-TV resisted placing Kimmel’s show on its airwaves for his first four years, airing repeats of “Entertainment Tonight” and the 11 p.m. Channel 2 Action newscast instead.

The reason at the time? The station said it made more money that way.

Two years after Kimmel debuted on ABC, I spoke with Kimmel at the Television Critics Association press confab in 2005 about the snub and the station’s rationale for keeping him off the air in Atlanta.

“They’re probably right, but I don’t know why people have to be focused on money all the time,” Kimmel cracked at an ABC press party. “Heck, I do this for free.”

He then joked about what Atlanta was missing: “We have Oprah on every night. Have you ever heard of Tom Cruise? Ever heard of John Travolta? Every night they’re on the show. Oprah is our announcer.”

More seriously, he added: “I think a letter-writing campaign is the best course of action, but I don’t think anybody will do it. It’s hard to get excited about a show you’ve never seen.”

Then again, Kimmel said, “I might have to kidnap the general manager’s pet.”

Finally, in 2007, WSB-TV relented and placed him on air. The station even flew him into town to meet and greet staff and clients at the TV station, feeding him at Blue Ridge Grill and plying him with drinks at Twist in Phipps Plaza.

That’s where I caught him with his agent and various ABC reps for a victory toast. WSB-TV was the last major market station to add “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

When WSB-TV invited him to come, he took two days off. And the station kept him and his staff at the Four Seasons, where Jon Bon Jovi was staying, too. At the party, he opened by jokingly saying, “You may not know me but I’m Jimmy Kimmel. And I’m the new quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.”

At Twist, a WSB-TV “Hot Topics” cameraman followed him around as he shook hands with various fans and non -ans who had never really seen him before.

“I have no idea who he is,” acknowledged Whitney Pelletier, a hairstylist from Marietta, who nonetheless got her photo taken with him.

Another drunk woman, while I spoke with him, came up and said her daughter knew him and said he was Johnny Carson. “Oh, I’m not Johnny,” he said patiently. “He’s dead.” (A publicist eventually shooed the woman away after he signed an autograph on a napkin for said daughter.)

Others did know him and congratulated him for finally arriving in Atlanta.

Mark Borders had emailed WSB-TV a few years before complaining about the absence of Kimmel. Amazingly, management saved the email and invited folks like him to hang out at Twist to meet him. He sat and spoke with the fans for a few minutes, then went out of his way to make sure they got pictures. While some of his staff drank heavily, Kimmel nursed an Amstel Light before cutting out at about 12:20 a.m.

Michael Canali had just moved from D.C. to Chamblee a month earlier and brought his fiancé Candice Dandurand to the table to give Kimmel props.

Among Kimmel’s entourage was the head of late night programming for ABC, Kimmel’s agent and Uncle Sal, a regular on his show who is actually Kimmel’s cousin. Oh, and Larry Wachs, formerly of the Regular Guys, who befriended Kimmel when Wachs worked in Los Angeles.

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