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Jimmy Kimmel loves TV… and apparently, TV loves him back. The one-time radio DJ first broke out as the funny sidekick on "Win Ben Stein's Money" and Adam Carolla's drinking buddy on "The Man Show," and he's currently in his ninth year of hosting his own late-night talk show, ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Now he's gearing up to host the Primetime Emmys for the first time this Sunday night.
And Kimmel won't just be dealing with your run-of-the-mill hosting jitters: His late-night show (which is moving to 11:35 PM in January to take on Leno and Letterman) is also nominated for Best Variety Series for the first time. We chatted with Kimmel this week about whether he'll pull any punches as Emmys host, how he felt squeezing into Maggie Smith's "Downton Abbey" wardrobe, and his surprising picks for his five favorite TV shows of all time.
Even to those of us who love TV, the Emmys ceremony itself can be a bit of a snooze. Is there anything you can do as host to spice things up?
Well, I'm going to try. What you have to remember about the Emmys is, it has become a television show, but that's not the point of it. The point is, people are getting awards from their colleagues who work in television. And at some point, they invited television cameras in to watch it. But ultimately, there are a lot of awards to give out, so there is a lot of business. But I do think that when people like a particular show, they enjoy seeing the people who created it and the people who star in it win. There's something for them to root for. It's kind of like sports in that way.
You've never been shy about taking on celebrities. Did you get the green light to go after people, Ricky Gervais-style, or are you gonna play nice?
I think there's always a happy medium. I never try to pick on people. With my friends, we make fun of each other, and that's always the spirit with which I go into something like this.
Who's your hosting ideal? Who did it better than anybody?
I think Conan [O'Brien] did a great job when he hosted the Emmys. I've been going back and looking at some of the old shows, just to see what people did and make sure we don't overlap. He had a really great taped piece. And also, he had a lot more time than I have. I think Conan had, like, a 12-minute monologue or something, whereas mine is significantly shorter.
[ Photos: Best and worst Emmy Awards dresses ]
Garry Shandling, I thought, was really good. He did something really interesting at the time. They surprised a couple of kids who thought they'd won a trip somewhere, and they brought them out in hoods and took them off and they were onstage at the Emmys. They had no idea how this had happened. And I like that kind of unplanned planning, where you leave room for something to happen. The worst Emmys shows are the ones in which there are no surprises. I think you want to leave some room to breathe, so you have those things.
Do you have any favorite shows among this year's nominees? Anything that we might see you pumping your fist for if it wins?
Well, I'm way too self-involved to pump my fist for a television show, but… [Laughs] I have to say, there are no shows that I look at and say, "How did that get in there?" I'm a regular viewer of probably 70 percent of the shows that are nominated this year, so there are a lot of favorites for me. One new show I like a lot is "Girls." I think it's a great show. I can't wait for Sunday nights to watch it. I hope Lena Dunham does well. I think she's someone that's going to be around for a very long time.
You dressed up as characters from all of the Best Drama nominees for TV Guide. Did that give you a newfound appreciation for Maggie Smith's talent?
[Laughs] You know, it's funny: I never look more like a man than when I'm dressed as a woman. I think she's the one I looked least like. But she is fantastic on that show. Unfortunately, I weigh probably three times as much as she does. If Maggie Smith is a raisin, I was the big, fat grape beforehand.
Your show is nominated this year in the Best Variety Series category. So what would be more awkward: if you win, and then have to go back to hosting, or if you lose, and then have to go back to hosting?
I think it would be much more awkward to win, although I'm not particularly worried about it. I don't know why I remember this, but I remember Wayne Brady won a Daytime Emmy while he was hosting that show. And it's just kind of odd that the host then walks over and becomes a winner. You always kind of feel like somehow the fix might be in. There's something wrong with it. But with that said, it's not like I'm rooting against us, but I don't expect that I'll have that particular problem.
[ Photos: Television's highest paid stars ]
Yeah, "The Daily Show" has won nine straight years in your category. What can you do to prevent them from winning yet again? Can you pull a Tonya Harding on Jon Stewart?
Even that wouldn't work, because then public sympathy would make him more powerful than he ever was. I think begging him to retire is our only option.
A lot of the usual names are missing from your category this year: No Jay Leno, no Dave Letterman, no Conan O'Brien. Why do you think they got shut out?
I don't think Jay ever gets nominated, but yeah, Dave and Conan… it's a very tight category. You've got, like, ten major shows that are eligible in this category, and six spots. It's definitely a bummer when you're in that bottom half. [Laughs] But I think they were good choices. If the nominees are the same every single year, it's going to be very boring. And these late-night shows, they don't turn over as quickly as the primetime shows do. So if you have the same six nominees every year, who cares? I just think there's been some new energy added to late night, and people are noticing that.
Finally, can you give us your all-time top five TV shows, past or present?
Okay, number one? "Late Night With David Letterman." Number two… I shouldn't rank these, because I'll obsess over this afterwards. I would say "The Honeymooners"… "Hill Street Blues"… "Lost"… and maybe "Breaking Bad" would probably be in there. Listen, that's a conversation that could go on for four hours with me.