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Tuned In: Jimmy Kimmel's midnight hour

Friday, January 17, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- The exterior of Jimmy Kimmel's new TV home, a former Masonic Temple on Hollywood Boulevard, looks like a bank, with towering pillars in the Greek Revival style. Inside, it's equally impressive.

An expansive front room houses a stage for bands and two bars. If Kimmel gets his way, beer and wine will be served to the audience before they proceed to the studio.

There the audience will find an attractive art deco set done in the style of an old theater. Gold and orange colors dominate with blue accents. Flat-screen TVs embedded in the walls behind the traditional couch and host's desk show live views of Hollywood outside. If TV shows were judged by production design alone, Kimmel's show would be a sure-fire hit.

When "Jimmy Kimmel Live" premieres just after midnight on Super Bowl Sunday, it will face an uphill battle. Usually airing weeknights opposite the last half-hour of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "The Late Show with David Letterman," Kimmel's program will try to woo fans of "The Man Show" on Comedy Central, where Kimmel has been co-host since its inception.

On his new series, Kimmel will have a guest co-host each week, beginning with rapper Snoop Dogg.

"[He] is off the pot, so hopefully he'll show up," Kimmel said, adding later, "he's pretty coherent when he's not stoned. Now, you've probably never seen him like that before."

In addition to the talk-show staples -- celebrities and musical performances -- Kimmel's show has a stage built outside in a parking lot behind the theater where bands can play before a crowd.

Kimmel will also make use of the environs. Already he's taped a segment featuring his elderly Uncle Frank, the show's security guard, waxing nostalgic about the few names he recognizes on the Walk of Fame along Hollywood Boulevard.

Unlike other late-night talk shows, this one will air live on the East Coast. Kimmel won't do a monologue; instead he'll banter with his co-host.

"I don't think you learn anything about the personal lives of any of the other late night talk-show hosts and on mine, I think you will," Kimmel said. And this Jimmy Kimmel will be different from the Jimmy Kimmel on "The Man Show."

"When I was on 'The Man Show,' that was less of me than this is," he said. "I'm not really like that. I certainly enjoy football, sports and stuff like that, but I'm not the guy that's screaming at the girls on the balcony at Mardi Gras to take off their tops. If anything, I was distancing myself on that show from this, but on 'Win Ben Stein's Money' and on Fox Sports, it's probably more what I'm really like than on 'The Man Show.'"

Still, he won't be a softer Kimmel.

"Anybody that was put off by me on 'The Man Show' probably is not going to care for this show really anyway," Kimmel said. "They'll probably stick to Jay Leno."

"Jimmy Kimmel Live," which will air in Pittsburgh on WTAE, has another challenge, a serious lead-in news program, "Nightline."

"We've talked to Ted about his show and there are going to be some changes made," Kimmel joked. "He knows that he's going to have to somehow fit in, and I think he's prepared to do that."

PLAYING COWBOY
After the ratings success of "Louis L'Amour's Crossfire Trail," Tom Selleck gets back in the saddle for another TNT western, "Monte Walsh" (8 tonight, tomorrow and Sunday).

Selleck said he relates to the western character archetype.

"They're all flawed, which I always find interesting, but they are basically good men who are struggling, in essence trying to do the right thing," he said.

"Monte Walsh," which runs 2 1/2 hours, is based on a novel of the same name by the author of "Shane." It's been made into a movie once already, but the tale of one of the last cowboys appealed to Selleck.

"I particularly like this story because it's not about gunmen, it's about cowboys," he said. "As many westerns as we've seen, I don't think audiences, particularly younger audiences, understand the life."

Co-star Keith Carradine said the appeal of the western, like country music, is a yearning for bygone eras.

"They last because they evoke a simpler time in many ways," Carradine said. "People need that kind of simplicity, especially as the world becomes more complex."

Selleck agreed.

"We just went through the turn of the century, and I don't know about you, but I'm feeling a little left behind," he said. "I kind of miss the 20th century. That's what this movie's about."

JOHNSTOWN FLOOD MINISERIES

Pittsburgh native John Harrison, who wrote and directed Sci Fi Channel's "Dune" miniseries two years ago, wrote a sequel that airs in March. He's also at work on ABC's three-hour TV movie about the Johnstown Flood, based on the book by David McCullough.

Harrison will produce and direct the film for director Ridley Scott's production company and he hopes to film it in Western Pennsylvania, possibly as soon as later this year.

"I'm going to tell the network we should budget to shoot it back there, but the factors of economics are going to have a lot to do with it," Harrison said. "Maybe, as importantly, will be the weather conditions because it takes place in springtime. It's almost all exteriors and if they say, 'We need it on air at a certain date' and that means I've got to be in production in the winter, then I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

Quinn Taylor, the ABC executive in charge of movies and miniseries, said the network had a good experience filming part of "The Pennsylvania Miners' Story" in Western Pennsylvania.

"It was fantastic. We had the help of every living, breathing person in the area because we were doing a heroic story," Taylor said. That experience makes him more inclined to return for the Johnstown flood movie, but he said it will be up to the production company. Unlike "Miners' Story," which ABC owned, the flood movie is only licensed to ABC.

"I'm still very high on it and it's still on top of my development reports," Taylor said, "but I don't even had a script to read yet."

In addition to his work on the Johnstown flood movie, Harrison is trying to sell Sci Fi Channel on a weekly "Dune" series. He's also developing another sci-fi series for the network that's set in Baltimore, but that he might try to film in Pittsburgh.


Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com .

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