Nellie Andreeva

ABC has confirmed long-running speculation that as part of Jimmy Kimmel’s new two-year deal with ABC, the comedian had asked for his latenight talk show on the network to be moved up from 12:05 AM to midnight. The change will come into effect on Feb.4. ABC News president Ben Sherwood just sent out this memo elaborating on the impact Jimmy Kimmel Live‘s earlier start time will have on Nightline, whose running time will be shortened to 25 minutes. Among other things, ABC News is getting a commitment for 13 hourlong primetime editions of Nightline to air on ABC. Nightline, which recently ranked as the most watched program in late night, had long been a target as the only non-entertainment program to air on the Big 3 networks after 11PM. A decade ago, ABC brass famously plotted to replace it with a David Letterman-hosted talk show. Here is Sherwood’s email:

I’m writing to share some important news about Nightline.

First and foremost, today ABC has definitively answered one of the recurring questions about Nightline and ABC News:  The company firmly believes Nightline is a vital part of its successful late night strategy and Nightline will anchor the schedule at 11:35 PM.  Period.

Last year, ABC told Jimmy Kimmel that he would get a new start time – moving to midnight effective February 4, 2011.  Obviously, this fact will move up Nightline’s out-time.  Both Nightline and Kimmel are valuable franchises for ABC for different reasons, and in discussing the shift, Anne Sweeney told me:  “This is a strategic move that better leverages the strength and value of both Nightline and Jimmy Kimmel Live for our network.  The midnight start for Kimmel keeps Nightline where it is, anchoring our late night lineup –where it regularly beats the competition— and gives Jimmy the chance to leverage that strong lead-in more effectively with a quicker connection to late night viewers, which will help him build on the great momentum his show has experienced over the past year.”

James Goldston and I have discussed this change and he is developing a new format to maximize the amount of Nightline’s editorial content and minimize the disruption to our program.  I’ve seen initial plans and can assure you that our audience shouldn’t notice any change to this powerful, proven and successful show.

Finally, and perhaps most important, I am working with Paul Lee of ABC Entertainment to find new opportunities for ABC News and our viewers, and one of the first examples of this collaboration is a firm commitment for 13 hours in prime for Nightline to produce this year.  These are new hours beyond the prime hours and specials that 20/20 produces.

The addition of 13 new hours in prime should be celebrated as a reflection of the Nightline team’s success, an expansion of the program’s reach and a serious boon to the division.

I’m mindful that while this email answers one existential question about Nightline, it may raise others.  I encourage you to reach out directly with your questions.  I’m happy to discuss any ideas or concerns.

Together we will make this new format and these new hours work for Nightline, for ABC News and most critically for our viewers.

TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.