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Fast Talk: Night Stalker

Jimmy Kimmel Live's Jill Leiderman on how to run a late-night talk show.

Fast Talk: Night Stalker

Jill Leiderman

Executive Producer, Jimmy Kimmel Live
Los Angeles, California

Leiderman, 35, is the executive producer of ABC's late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live. Ratings are up 17% in the last year among 18- to 49-year-olds, and the show, once on thin ice, has been renewed and will even follow ABC's Oscar telecast on February 25. Here, the career-long creature of TV—she got her start making tomato-and-celery puree for Days of Our Lives star Deidre Hall—explains how to develop the ideal environment for people to be their creative best.

"The irony of late-night television is that there is tremendous pressure to create something that is light and easy and puts people to bed with a smile on their face. In fostering the environment here, I wanted to nurture and mentor, but also inspire people to deliver night after night, working at a very high, intense level.

I always encourage people to see the comedy-variety format as a venue for creativity. I zero in on the humanity of the moment and try to get celebrity guests to recognize that they're in a playful place. Jimmy's father looks strikingly like Wolf Blitzer. So, in honor of Father's Day, we wanted Jimmy's father to play opposite Wolf Blitzer to see who knew Jimmy better. Wolf has an incredibly demanding schedule, but he gave us the time and energy to do the comedy bit we wanted. 'Pop Quiz' was a great hit.

When I worked for David Letterman, I developed these skills to draw out not just actors, but also regular people we've pulled off the street. I'd have to find a fat guy with back hair who's willing to let us wax him on camera. I say, 'Hey, how's it going? Listen, I don't know what you're up to today, but I was thinking maybe we take you over here to this lady who does great waxing, we wax your back on camera, and you get a story to tell—and a tape to prove it.' It's a bedside manner. Ugh. I make myself sick; I'm so happy. Gross. Tell me to shut it."

A version of this article appeared in the March 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.