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Late night humor heavy on alcohol, short on guests

Last week’s evolution of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” can be distilled to a three-step program.

Sunday: Ted Koppel deftly gets the show off the ground by telling viewers: “There will be no special post-Super Bowl edition of ‘Nightline’ tonight so that ABC can bring you the following piece of garbage.” Then big-fish guest George Clooney shows up with a vodka bottle in hand. “So how are things on ‘ER’?” he’s asked after drinks are poured.

Wednesday: Kimmel, guest Adam Corolla and guest host Snoop Dogg get trashed, consuming multiple shots of vodka from a carton labeled “Goat’s Milk.” It’s Kimmel’s “Animal House” response to Disney-owned ABC’s deep-sixing of the show’s liquor license after an inebriated audience member vomited during Sunday’s premiere. At the height of his own intoxication, Kimmel kisses an elderly female fry cook full on the lips.

Thursday: “We got in trouble last night on the show,” Kimmel says, referring to multiple tongue-lashings from ABC executives for his previous night’s conduct. “Right now the Vegas line is I’m back on Comedy Central by Valentine’s Day.”

Well, no one said it would be pretty. But let’s keep rolling with juvenile Jimmy Kimmel, whose Brand X approach to the late-night-talk-show genre is both a breath of fresh air and a foul-smelling beer belch. He’s one dangerous dude, which is both his charm and possibly his ruin. Tame him too much and his show becomes mush. Leave him completely to his own devices and he’ll probably die by his own sword. A happy medium must be out there somewhere. But where?

Whatever happens, it must be some fun at the Disney/ABC corporate offices, where pin-stripers no doubt are battling a sudden epidemic of Kimmel-induced ulcers. This is, after all, the former co-host of Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” home of weekly crash courses in coarse humor. Kimmel at least has toilet-trained himself for his high-wire, live ABC show. Still, the network has never been home to anything like this. It’s like sending Mickey Mouse to baby-sit the cast of “South Park.” Still, ABC Entertainment Group Chairman Lloyd Braun repeatedly has said the network is in this for the long haul.

ABC fervently hopes that “Jimmy Kimmel Live” eventually will pay its way by attracting mobs of 18- to 34-year-old male viewers, few of whom watch “Nightline.” They’re TV’s most elusive and impressionable “demographic,” which means that advertisers will pay premium rates for anything that keeps them even remotely interested.

Wednesday’s drunken bash of a show, which found Snoop Dogg literally laid out on the couch, no doubt left ABC execs with a collective throbbing hangover. But it also provided a wealth of crazed, laugh-out-loud entertainment for younger viewers and even this older one.

Near the end, Corolla snatched a ventriloquist’s dummy from the hands of the horrid “Armenian Comedian.” He next immersed it in a vat of boiling oil where Kimmel earlier had French-fried both an audience member’s watch and a submarine sandwich. Then New Found Glory took the show’s impressive outdoor stage after Kimmel barely managed to introduce the band to a genuine screaming throng. You don’t see that every day.

Alas, Tuesday’s show was a full-blown disaster. Hard-pressed to scare up guests, Kimmel scraped a barrel-bottom and came up with Tammy Faye and a nut-case ghostbuster with an assortment of discomforting whelps and gyrations.

“We’re clearly winning the booking wars here,” Kimmel deadpanned, finally urging viewers to switch over to Conan O’Brien’s ongoing interview with Ellen DeGeneres.

The “Blizzard Monday” show went better. While the host and his desk were covered with “snow,” guest Al Michaels tried rapping with 50 Cent, whose eventual stage performance got bleeped 16 times by ABC censors.

On Thursday, Kimmel welcomed a loopy pet psychic, actor Seth Green and LeAnn Rimes, his first female guest of any import.

“You look kinda like an old Puerto Rican lady,” he told the purple-haired Green. He was a bit nicer to Rimes, but only after taking viewers on a tour of her new, grown-up pictorial in Maxim Blender magazine. She then got to sing.

A pre-taped segment with Snoop Dogg found the rapper selling his old bong pipes and other paraphernalia at a yard sale. Kinda funny. For the most part, Snoop turned out to be an amusing, willing foil for Kimmel. Serious efforts should be made to scrap the guest-host idea and try to make Snoop the show’s permanent sidekick.

Whether that would be a career setback for him is yet to be determined. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” is still feeling its way. Actually, “groping” might be a better word. For Disney/ABC, it’s still touch and go.