'Politically Incorrect' becomes ABC's new late night target

— ABC is in discussions with comedian Jimmy Kimmel, co-host of Comedy Central's "The Man Show," to serve as host of a program that would replace its troubled late-night show "Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher," according to several sources.

It was not known what form a show with Kimmel as host would take, but ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co., has stated its desire to attract younger viewers to late night.

That was a primary motivation behind the network's bid in March to woo David Letterman from CBS to a show that would have displaced "Nightline."

Kimmel would bring a niche following, particularly among men ages 18 to 34, a demographic popular with advertisers.

After the failed bid for Letterman, ABC restated its commitment to "Nightline" but remained noticeably silent on the future of "Politically Incorrect."

An ABC spokesman declined to comment on any discussions with Kimmel, as did representatives for the comedian.

It has been widely thought that ABC will replace "Politically Incorrect," which airs weeknights after "Nightline." The program's contract expires at the end of the year.

Sources said that ABC might want to have an announcement ready before unveiling next season's revised prime-time lineup to advertisers May 14.

The lack of discussion about Maher in the midst of the public relations maelstrom that the Letterman negotiations kicked up further hardened feelings between ABC and producers of the show, who believe the network has done little to support it.

Relations evidently have not recovered from Maher's reference on the show to past U.S. military actions as cowardly.

In the wake of those remarks, made shortly after Sept. 11, several advertisers � including Sears Roebuck & Co. and FedEx Corp. � pulled ads from the show, and several affiliates refused to air the program.

Maher and his producers also have complained about a lack of promotion, having had no success getting "Nightline" host Ted Koppel to tease to their show before the news program signs off.

"They have no clue how to nurture a late-night franchise, and I wish Jimmy Kimmel the best of luck � he's going to need it," said Mark Gurvitz, Maher's manager at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which produces "Politically Incorrect" in association with HBO Downtown Productions.

Maher declined to comment, although he has publicly acknowledged the speculation that his show, which began as a Comedy Central series in 1993 before moving to ABC in 1997, is on a short leash.

If Kimmel were to land at ABC, his persona would provide an even more discordant companion to "Nightline."

"The Man Show" is a celebration of beer drinking, scantily clad women and other male pursuits. It begins taping its fourth season this month.

In addition, Kimmel is among the creators of Comedy Central's new "Crank Yankers," in which puppets give voice to prank phone calls. The series will premiere next month.

Kimmel also appeared on Fox Sports' coverage of professional football, and is the former co-host of the Comedy Central game show "Win Ben Stein's Money."


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