Outrage at Kimmel comments on Melania surges as protest petition exceeds 50K signatures

ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel's recent jokes about first lady Melania Trump are apparently offending a lot of viewers.

An online petition launched recently, calling for a boycott of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and has exceeded its goal of 50,000 signatures. Organizers say the petition will eventually be sent to “the front door of Disney/ABC Studios” Burbank, Calif.

“We may not get him kicked off the air,” the petition says. “But we can send a message that these attacks on our First Lady will NOT be tolerated!”

Specifically, offended viewers appear to take issue with Kimmel's jokes about the first lady's Slovenian accent. On Monday, he mocked Melania Trump’s reading to children during a White House Easter celebration.

“We may not get him kicked off the air. But we can send a message that these attacks on our First Lady will NOT be tolerated!”

— Online petition against ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live"

“Dees and dat,” Kimmel joked, of her pronunciation of “this or that.”

Kimmel's targeting of the first lady seems to contradict the network's recent assertions that it has captured the hearts of middle America since launching the rebooted "Roseanne" sitcom.

In fact, beleaguered ABC President Ben Sherwood trumpeted his programming acumen to the New York Times the day after "Roseanne" scored massive ratings, claiming that ABC executives had a meeting the morning after the election about how they could better reach Middle America.

But Sherwood --- who insiders say is fighting for his job as ABC remains mired in fourth place -- has been a particular champion of Kimmel's over the years. When he was president of ABC News, he reportedly supported the network moving Kimmel's low-rated late night show into the more favorable time slot long occupied by ABC News' "Nightline." Later, as ABC president, Sherwood would personally lobby the Academy for Kimmel to host the Oscars.

"Jimmy elevated the Emmys," Sherwood said at the time.

It's not clear now how Kimmel's attacks of the First Lady or his subsequent, sexual jokes regarding President Trump, are elevating anything.

“’Roseanne’ is dumb luck for them. And now they think this will save their jobs. Well it won’t. It’s one show,” an ABC insider told Fox News.

For example, despite the success of that show in its first two weeks, the network still hasn't addressed viewers' calls for the return of "Last Man Standing," the Tim Allen comedy that many suspect was canceled because of pro-conservative content.

In fact, it can be argued that much of ABC's programming -- and that of sister networks such as ESPN -- actually steers away from the views of people in America's heartland.

Kimmel isn’t ABC's only star who is critical of Trump. It was previously reported that the network pays roughly $15 million per year for former Clinton White House aide George Stephanopoulos to host “Good Morning America,” despite some questioning whether he's worth the enormous salary.

Meanwhile, the “American Idol” stars earning the biggest paychecks have been polarizing for viewers, spelling trouble for the expensive reboot. ABC host Ryan Seacrest has been dogged by accusations of sexual harassment leveled by his former stylist for “E! News,” Suzie Hardy.

"Idol" judge Katy Perry, who was previously a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter, upset viewers recently when she kissed an unsuspecting male contestant on the lips. She was also in a legal battle with some elderly nuns over a convent Perry wanted to convert into a luxury estate.

One of the nuns -- 89-year-old Sister Catherine Rose Holzman -- died last month after collapsing in court in connection with the Perry case.

ABC also plays home to dramas like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” helmed by Shonda Rhimes, who has fiercely criticized Trump, Fox News reported.

Last year, in a roundtable discussion with TV writers for the New York Times, she made comments about those who feel the 2016 election was a wakeup call to TV creators to showcase more stories that appeal to parts of the country that typically skew right.

In January, ABC News demoted its chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross after he botched an “exclusive” report that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn would testify that then-candidate Donald Trump had ordered him to make contact with Russians about foreign policy.

Martha Raddatz of ABC News received criticism for seemingly "choking up" on air when discussing the military on the 2016 election night, and Fox News' Howard Kurtz goes into further analysis.

Meanwhile, Fox News host Sean Hannity has criticized Kimmel, saying it was unfair of Kimmel to criticize Melania Trump because the first lady is in a vulnerable position.

"The first lady of the United States is not going to get into a feud with a late-night, low-rated talk show host like Jimmy Kimmel," he said. "She can't. If she does, it's not going to end well for her. So, he knows he has a free, open target."

On Friday, Kimmel launched some jokes about Hannity that offended members of the LGBT community.

“Don’t worry – just keep tweeting – you’ll get back on top! (or does Trump prefer you on the bottom?) Either way, keep your chin up big fella..XO,” Kimmel tweeted.

“I’m physically ill over you making gay a punchline in 2018,” one Kimmel critic tweeted. “With all the hatred out there, this is how you get laughs & RTs.”

Fox News' Brian Flood and The Associated Press contributed to this report.