The network said Tuesday that Kimmel's show will take over the time slot long held by the news magazine "Nightline," starting in January.
ABC's management has for years tried to replace that program with an entertainment show because of the possibility to increase revenue in the time period, according to the New York Times.
"It's all a bit scary, too, but it's very exciting," Kimmel told The Times in a phone interview.
Reports indicate that Kimmel was coming to the end of his current contract with ABC and some at the network were concerned about interest from other parties. But according to the 44-year-old Brooklyn native, "This was just a decision that ABC made on their own. We didn't push them or bully them," he told The Times.
"It's a huge move. This is Jimmy's moment. It's a culmination for him," Anne Sweeney, the president of Disney/ABC, said in a statement. "We are looking at a landscape with two entrenched guys who are starting to fade. Their audiences are diminishing and Jimmy, who has now been on 10 years, is continuing to grow."
Kimmel's audience in 2011-12 grew from the prior season by 3% in total viewers to generate its most-watched season in 5 years, according to ABC. Outside of the show, the host, who also doubles as producer, entertained at the 2012 White House Correspondents' Dinner, and is also set to host the Emmy Awards next month.
"Jimmy is in the zeitgeist," Ms. Sweeney said, pointing to how videos from his show have been known to trend for days on end. "When his videos go viral, they really go viral." She cited as examples bits in which he put a fake lie detector on children and parents told children they stole their Halloween candy.
In the statement, ABC made it a point to note that CBS had extended Mr. Letterman for two years, and NBC is expected to extend Mr. Leno's tenure on "Tonight" for just as long. The extension is expected to make for quite the three-way match between a young Kimmel and the two established late-night stars, both of whom are in their 60s.
The move also seems to present Kimmel with the first stab at the 11:35 slot before NBC makes the more-than-likely move of sliding its emerging late-night star, Jimmy Fallon, up to the "Tonight" slot.
"That's definitely part of this," Mr. Kimmel told The Times, "as well as who the mystery man will be who eventually takes over for Dave."