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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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March 21st, 2013
05:58 PM ET

Jimmy Kimmel agrees, Leno "dumbing down" his jokes

Late night ratings roulette has begun, with more than ten million viewers at stake, and hundreds of millions of dollars in network advertising on the line.

But as NBC apparently makes moves to replace Jay Leno with Jimmy Fallon, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel - fresh from his New Year's move from 12:35am to 11:35pm - remains unfazed.

"Obviously, NBC is looking to move on, because they did it once already. This would be the second time that this has happened. So I mean, it makes perfect sense. And Jimmy Fallon is doing a great job," says Kimmel.

As for Jay Leno, let's just say Kimmel's respect for the comic legend knows bounds; Kimmel criticized Leno in a Rolling Stone article back in January, saying "Leno hasn't been a good stand-up in 20 years."

"Yes, yes. My mother told me to stop," Kimmel says of the criticism. "I have diarrhea of the mouth."

Kimmel tempered his criticism of Leno, saying he "is one of the great comedians." But in response to questions of the NBC host dumbing down his material, Kimmel says, "I think that's fair to say."

Like potential rival Fallon, Kimmel is a lot younger than Leno, with a more contemporary, modern sensibility.

"I hate that younger thing," Kimmel says, adding he imagines "doing this job when I get older. And I just think it's like, it's unfair. People age. It's just how it works."

Quicker than he expected, Kimmel proved himself competitive with the coveted demographic of younger viewers. His videos have gone viral online in a way that other competitors, even Fallon, have been unable to match. Kimmel's YouTube channel has more than 1.5 million subscribers, and clocks an impressive 500 million video views. By comparison, Fallon's channel has less than 250,000 subscribers, and just under 100 million video views.

"It educates you, because it's very democratic," Kimmel says of the digital audience. "People really are like voting for what they think is funny by watching it, and passing it around to their friends."

It's been a big year for Kimmel, in addition to hosting the Emmys and providing comedy for the White House Correspondents dinner, he got engaged to one of his writers. Kimmel says his fiancée was hired as a writer's assistant and started out on the show writing jokes. She was promoted to writer because the material was so strong.

"That's really like what attracted me to her is that she's funny," says Kimmel. "It's good, but it's weird to be, you know, to have a work assignment be what attracts you to somebody."

Well-written jokes helped push the late night host to the earlier, more coveted time slot, where he is now pitted directly against his idol David Letterman.

"That's who I'd choose to watch if I'm choosing to watch somebody," says Kimmel. "I never watch myself. I oftentimes watch his show. So it's, you know, strange to be the guy in this position." That is, a guy in direct competition with his idol.

"The margins between us are so slim, it's not like a prize fight, where you go in and you're actually knocking somebody out," says Kimmel. "The truth is three shows can be successful simultaneously, and all do perfectly well, and everybody wins."

Tell that to the network executives. The late night wars between Leno and Letterman were so heated there was a best-selling book, and subsequent HBO movie about them. If there were a sequel, who would play Jimmy Kimmel?

"Well, I would love to see an African-American have that part," said Kimmel, with a mischievous smile. "Quvenzhané Wallis, excellent idea."

Oscar-nominated, pint-sized Wallis would be great because she is, after all, America's sweetheart.

"She is," agreed Kimmel. "And so am I."

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