Kimmel Hires Jilted Contestant

Jimmy Kimmel, the lovable lug launching his own ABC late-night talk show in January, sure hired some freaky characters to join his writing staff. There’s the brilliant Steve O’Donnell, the former Harvard Lampoon –ite who spent more than a decade as a writer for David Letterman. There’s Bill Simmons, a sports nut and first-time TV writer who rose to cult prominence as an Internet columnist. There’s Joel Hodgson, the former star of Mystery Science Theater 3000 . There’s Mr. Kimmel’s cousin Sal Iacano, who before entering show business led a depressing life as a real-estate lawyer.

Then there’s Rick Rosner, who is probably freakier than the rest of the Jimmy Kimmel Live staff combined. The intellectually gifted 42-year-old has been chronicled in both print and film for his life of whimsical if compulsive obsession. Errol Morris made a TV documentary about him, called One in a Million Trillion . As a young man, he traveled from town to town and repeatedly repeated his senior year of high school, trying to get the experience just right. Talented in physics and math, he has a “Born to Do Math” tattoo on his foot. He’s a former bar bouncer and nude model. He’s been obsessed with game shows, and he appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire twice.

And that’s where it gets really interesting. The last time Rick Rosner appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire , he lost on a question he considered a bad question. And so he’s suing ABC for $1 million.

Of course, as part of Mr. Kimmel’s show, now he’s working for ABC, too.

“I’m not sure how much I am supposed to say, but I am in an interesting position,” Mr. Rosner said the other day, when reached by phone at Jimmy Kimmel Live ‘s offices in Los Angeles.

Mr. Rosner is not new to television writing or to Mr. Kimmel. He got his start in the business working for MTV’s Remote Control , and he and writing partner Paul Raff have worked together for nine years. They first met up with Mr. Kimmel six years ago to discuss a pilot that never aired, and then worked with him on The Man Show -first on the Comedy Central program’s Web site and later writing for the show itself. The pair has also written for Crank Yankers , a puppet prank-call show that Mr. Kimmel helped create.

But now Mr. Kimmel has swiveled his lounge chair from basic cable to late night, and Mr. Rosner and Mr. Raff are among several old colleagues and loyalists who have made the jump with him. “This feels like the big time,” Mr. Rosner said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rosner’s suit against his current employer continues. Mr. Rosner contends that ABC and Millionaire wronged him during a 2000 episode with a $16,000 question asking him “What capital city is located at the highest altitude above sea level?” The selections were Kathmandu, Mexico City, Quito and Bogota.

Mr. Rosner picked Katmandu, and Regis Philbin said Quito. Mr. Rosner now main tains the actual correct answer is La Paz, Bolivia, and thus everyone was wrong. In December 2001, a Los Angeles judge threw out several of Mr. Rosner’s complaints but allowed him to press on with his suit. (ABC has asked for a summary judgment, Mr. Rosner said.)

But he still feels he’s got a shot at winning. “I’ve been pursuing this for nearly two and a half years now,” Mr. Rosner said. “I’ve looked at over 60,000 Millionaire questions from around the world and the facts are incontrovertible.”

How does ABC feel about this? A spokesperson for the network noted that Mr. Rosner was not hired by the network itself but by Mr. Kimmel’s production company, Jackhole Industries.

“Obviously, knowing what capital city is located at the highest altitude above sea level isn’t a requirement for employment on Jimmy Kimmel Live ,” the ABC spokesperson said.

Still, Mr. Rosner said that when he began talking with Mr. Kimmel, he was “extremely nervous” that ABC might put the kibosh on his working for the network.

“I remain nervous,” he said. “But it’s good for everybody that I remain nervous because when I am nervous my productivity is up. I am just trying to do a really good job, to give nobody a reason to get rid of me.”

Mr. Rosner’s writing partner, Mr. Raff, said he, too, was concerned that the Millionaire suit would hurt their chances of working for Mr. Kimmel at ABC.

“But now it’s become very apparent that Jimmy is very amused by it,” Mr. Raff said. “So whatever amuses Jimmy is good with me.”

Mr. Raff, who alternately called Mr. Rosner a “great writer” and the “strangest person” he’d ever met in his life, said there’s been plenty of ribbing of his writing partner in the Jimmy Kimmel Live barracks.

Mr. Rosner said his lawsuit against ABC has been a “source of limited merriment.”

“Everybody knows,” he said. But asked what he’d do if he saw ABC Entertainment Television group chairman Lloyd Braun in the hall, Mr. Rosner said: “Run and hide.”

“I love ABC,” Mr. Rosner said. “ABC is my friend.” He also lavished praise on Mr. Kimmel, calling him a “great guy” and “ridiculously nice and loyal.”

Mr. Kimmel declined to comment on Mr. Rosner’s hiring other than to acknowledge that Mr. Rosner had worked with him on both The Man Show and Crank Yankers .

But Mr. Kimmel’s cousin, Mr. Iacano, was more than happy to speak about Mr. Rosner.

“He is not embarrassed about anything,” Mr. Iacano said. “That’s the thing. Did he tell you about posing nude over 1,500 times?”

Mr. Rosner could be heard correcting him in the background.

“1,460 he says,” Mr. Iacano said. ” Spectacular .”

Tonight on ABC, Extreme Makeovers , in which some plastic surgeons and personal trainers and hairdressers go to town on two women and a man. Then, for the ultimate challenge, they pick up their tools and head over to ABC News. [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]

Thursday, Dec. 12

Part of the Jimmy Kimmel fun will be the fact that the show’s is practically butt-naked live. Steve O’Donnell, who’s serving as Mr. Kimmel’s head writer, teased that even with a five-second delay, Jimmy Kimmel Live may encounter trouble if off-the-cuff comments get a little too off-the-cuff.

“There may be some blackouts, we may lose satellite contact,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “But I think it will be fun.”

Mr. O’Donnell, a veteran of the David Letterman heyday who also worked with Mr. Kimmel on The Man Show, acknowledged that he’s pretty much the old man on the Jimmy Kimmel Live writing staff. “I am kind of the faculty adviser to the Chaos Club,” he said.

But he was full of compliments for his colleagues and the headliner, whom he met years ago when a high school-aged Mr. Kimmel showed up at a Letterman taping in Las Vegas.

“Clearly people who know Jimmy just from sports and The Man Show may be surprised by how quick and verbal and skilled he is,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “Over the years I have come to be quite admiring of those qualities in him.”

A diehard Dave loyalist, Mr. O’Donnell said that for years he resisted taking jobs that would compete against his old boss. In fact, he said he sent a little note to Late Show with David Letterman producer Rob Burnett upon taking the job with Mr. Kimmel. “I presume they understand,” he said.

Besides, it’s not as if Mr. Kimmel’s crowd isn’t totally steeped and reverential of what Mr. O’Donnell called “Lettermania.”

“We have this little joke around the office that instead of saying, ‘When I was at Letterman,’ I say, ‘Orange, ‘” Mr. O’Donnell said. “They know that refers to it.”

Wasn’t there some old joke like that at SNL, involving Robert Smigel and the word “banana”? Tonight Mr. O’Donnell shuts his door on this kids, turns on ABC and finds himself unnervingly empathetic toward the principals on Dinotopia [WABC, 7, 8 P.M.]

Friday, Dec. 13

And what about Mr. Kimmel’s Man Show mate, Adam Carolla? The lanky, randy comic was sitting in on Howard Stern on Dec. 9 and told the audience that it looked like he was done with The Man Show , that he was going to work with Mr. Kimmel and that he’d maybe even do his own show following Jimmy Kimmel Live called Sloppy Seconds.

Well, not soooo fast. A rep for Comedy Central said that Mr. Carolla was still under consideration to continue on with The Man Show . As for Mr. Carolla coming to ABC either as part of Jimmy Kimmel Live or on another show, that appears to be premature. The comic’s manager, James Dixon, said that he and Mr. Carolla were still “weighing a lot of opportunities.”

Tonight on Comedy Central, an all-night fest of Premium Blend . Watch this mother long enough, and you’ll get Todd Barry, who’s worth staying in for. Even if he’s not on, stay in, think about Todd Barry. [COM, 45, 8 p.m.]

Saturday, Dec. 14

Colin Quinn launched his own fancy new Comedy Central show this week called Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. It’s running after The Daily Show and the idea is that a handful of smart-assed comics convene with Mr. Quinn and kibitz about the issues of the day, à la Politically Incorrect , but without the pontificating from the Congressional stiffs and blank stares from the showbiz bimbos and himbos.

Tough Crowd’s Dec. 9 launch-with comics Greg Giraldo, Sue Constello, Nick DiPaolo and Keith Robinson-was a little wobbly, as the panelists were gag-happy on topics like the Central Park rape case and the Catholic Church, but Mr. Quinn was fairly pleased. “I thought they did good,” he said. “They will get better, too, but they spoke honestly.”

How was Mr. Quinn feeling about the reaction he’s gotten to the Jerry Seinfeld documentary, Comedian , in which he appears as a resident comic sage, sitting with his megabucked pal in the Village’s Comedy Cellar and dissecting the yuk-yuk biz? Mr. Quinn said the praise has been sort of weird, since people are coming up to him and saying they didn’t realize he had a brain.

“People go, ‘Man, I just saw you on Weekend Update and I never knew you were that smart kind of guy,'” Mr. Quinn said. “O.K., so when I was reporting on the national news, you thought I was kind of a dumb bastard, and now, because I analyze something I have been doing for 18 years, semi-correctly …. “

You could practically hear Mr. Quinn shaking his head over the phone.

Tonight on Comedy Central, that horrible Chevy Chase roast that everyone can’t stop talking about. So bad, it’s good. And it’s got Todd Barry! [COM, 45, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, Dec. 15

In keeping with the all-comic lineup this week, we have some Zach Galifianakis news. Yup, that Zach Galifianakis-the comic who had that hilarious but rather short-lived run as a VH1 talk-show host earlier this year. Fox has signed Mr. G to a development deal, and in an e-mail Mr. Galifianakis wrote that he’s working on a show about (what else?) “a washed up MTV V.J.” In this show, the washed-up V.J. works and lives in the “guest house of a local Mattress king” and his “whole goal in life is to get back in the public eye but he never gets there.” As an example of a story line, Mr. Galifianakis mentioned one plot where the main character tries to impress a girl by taking her to see an old billboard of his that’s still up in a bad neighborhood, and the girl winds up getting shot.

“It will be quite British, hopefully,” Mr. Galifianakis wrote.

Tonight on Fox, Andy Richter Controls the Universe . We’re sure he’d settle for a 9:30 time slot. [WNYW, 5, 9:30 p.m.]

Monday, Dec. 16

Tonight, NYTV’s high-rolling brother bets his girlfriend’s Range Rover, apartment and dog on the Patriots over the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football . Over/under on how many holes he kicks in the wall: 2. Over/under on how many holes NYTV’s father kicks in wall: 6. [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, Dec. 17

Tonight on HBO, Ocean’s Eleven . From here to Solaris . Some year. [HBO, 32, 8 p.m.]