Jimmy Kimmel says he expects to settle in at third place in the ratings behind Jay Leno and David Letterman, even as one week of a direct challenge suggests a healthy competition, The Associated Press reports.

There were backstage smiles at Kimmel's Los Angeles studio Friday after Nielsen ratings showed the ABC comic had his largest audience ever on Thursday. This is the first week for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in the 11:35 p.m. time slot, directly competing with Leno on NBC and Letterman on CBS.

Kimmel announced that Matt Damon would be a guest on his Jan. 24 show -- no, really. Damon's been the subject of a long-running bit, with Kimmel frequently joking at the end of his show that he ran out of time and couldn't get Damon on as planned.

"People like the drama of late night -- 'Who will be the king of late night?' " Kimmel said. "Johnny Carson retired with the crown. There will be no king of late night anymore."

Kimmel was second behind Leno in viewership Tuesday, his first night in the time slot, and third the next two nights. ABC looks most closely at the 18-to-49 demographic, however. Among those viewers, Kimmel finished second to Leno on Tuesday, virtually tied with him Wednesday and won handily Thursday, Nielsen said. He gained in young viewers each of the three nights. Among all viewers Thursday, Leno was seen by 3.4 million people, Letterman by 3.29 million and Kimmel by 3.17 million, Nielsen said.

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"It's an encouraging start for them," said Brad Adgate, researcher at Horizon Media. "This is something where they aren't looking at the first week. They're looking at a year from now, three years from now, five years from now, when Leno and Letterman may leave their desks."

Kimmel, whose show spent a decade airing a half-hour later, said he didn't explicitly push ABC to move him up. But he did let his bosses know he was ready. Asked when he let them know, he joked, "Probably the first night."