LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - After five years at the helm of his own talk show, comedian Jimmy Kimmel is no longer "Jimmy Who?"
ABC is celebrating the 1,000th episode of his late-night mainstay, "Jimmy Kimmel Live," with a 90-minute special on Thursday, beginning at 11:35 p.m. (EDT/PDT).
Kimmel's ratings may be so-so, and it's not exactly the first stop on the late-night celebrity circuit, but the show has clearly struck a chord with younger adults, who respond to the host's low-key hip approach.
Up until his show's January 26, 2003, debut, Kimmel was best known as co-host and writer of "The Man Show," Comedy Central's raunchy celebration of the testosterone set. By his own admission, "Jimmy Kimmel Live" got off to a wobbly start, "when many days we booked our main guest at 5 in the afternoon."
Kimmel says both he and his show were perhaps trying too hard because of his inexperience at the game.
"I didn't understand the niceties of being a talk show host, what I was supposed to do and how to handle things," he recalls.
"Every interview turned out to be my last with almost everyone. I'm still cleaning up a lot of that mess from the first three months of the show. We forced the Rock, Dwayne Johnson, to ride a dogsled out onto the stage. He didn't want to. My producer didn't want to hear that. It became an unpleasant thing. We were overly aggressive with people. You can't do that and build any kind of goodwill. Fortunately, I think we've turned it around."
Indeed, the A-list has come calling, reports executive producer Jill Leiderman.
"We get Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Billy Crystal, Orlando Bloom, Cameron Diaz, George Clooney, Matt Damon ... Will Ferrell, Justin Timberlake, Hilary Swank, Steve Carell. Those people weren't coming on before. And I think a large part of that is just word of mouth on who Jimmy is and what he delivers on a nightly basis. People are magnetically drawn back to the show now because it's such a positive environment."
Not that Kimmel has any illusions with regard to his place on the late-night gabfest playing field. There remains a definite pecking order, he insists, "and we're not at the top of it. I really don't expect too many people to do my show before they do Jay (Leno)'s. At least we're competitive now with human interest and sports guests. The A-list still does Leno and (David) Letterman before thinking about everyone else, and that's the way it should be. But we're on the map, anyway."