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The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno & the Network Battle for the Night

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With two giant careers, millions in ad dollars--and maybe even an entire network--at stake, David Letterman and Jay Leno faced off over who would host the Tonight Show, the most profitable program in TV history. This is the inside account of this high-pressure confrontation.


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With two giant careers, millions in ad dollars--and maybe even an entire network--at stake, David Letterman and Jay Leno faced off over who would host the Tonight Show, the most profitable program in TV history. This is the inside account of this high-pressure confrontation.

30 review for The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno & the Network Battle for the Night

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    The Late Shift is the story of David Letterman, Jay Leno and the insanity surrounding The Tonight Show following Johnny Carson’s exit in 1992. Before I picked this up, I had read the author’s follow-up book, “The War for Late Night” which discussed at length the controversy surrounding Conan O’Brien’s boot from The Tonight Show in 2010. In that book, Carter laid the blame at the bumbling executives at NBC and after reading The Late Shift, it’s clear that NBC learned nothing the first time around. The Late Shift is the story of David Letterman, Jay Leno and the insanity surrounding The Tonight Show following Johnny Carson’s exit in 1992. Before I picked this up, I had read the author’s follow-up book, “The War for Late Night” which discussed at length the controversy surrounding Conan O’Brien’s boot from The Tonight Show in 2010. In that book, Carter laid the blame at the bumbling executives at NBC and after reading The Late Shift, it’s clear that NBC learned nothing the first time around. Way back in 1992, under pressure from Jay Leno’s tyrannical agent Helen Kushnick, NBC appointed him the de facto replacement whenever Carson decided to exit The Tonight Show. The problem? NBC completely snubbed David Letterman, a man who had put in a solid decade working the hour that followed Johnny. Letterman had been a ratings dynamo by pulling in that coveted 18-49 crowd studio execs lust after – why not give him a shot at 11:30? NBC believed Leno was the safest choice and judging by his performance guest hosting “Tonight” for Carson, he was the logical pick. It’s not like NBC went outside the box either. The consensus among critics was that Leno was the heir to the throne. Although he had rarely, if ever, alluded to the fact that he wanted The Tonight Show, Letterman was not even approached by the suits at 30 Rockefeller Centre about taking over hosting duties following Carson. Letterman would find out through a third party only after Leno had been selected that he would not be moving his show an hour up. Where do we go from here? Well, Letterman felt that at 42, he had outgrown the late shift. In order to advance his career, Letterman needed to move up to 11:30 and the thought of following Leno never appealed to him. Letterman didn’t want to leave NBC and NBC didn’t want to lose Letterman to a competitor like FOX, ABC or CBS. As Mick Jagger says, “You can’t always get what you want.” It still baffles me that Letterman and his agent Michael Ovitz were nearly able to get Leno thrown off The Tonight Show based on a hypothetical scenario in which Letterman would trounce Leno in the ratings game. Sure, there was a lot more to it than that, but Leno was already pulling in solid numbers and the two had never gone head-to-head before. You truly have to be a master manipulator to succeed in Hollywood. In the end, NBC should have just let Letterman go from the very beginning if they had already wrapped up Leno, but they couldn’t help themselves. In the end, they seemingly made the right call, but they were very lucky. Although Letterman destroyed Jay the first two years they went head-to-head, Leno would eventually recover, pull ahead of Letterman, and never look back. Like The War for Late Night, The Late Shift was a gripping read. Bill Carter, who had spent years covering television for The New York Times, heavily researched all the behind-the-scenes drama and crafted a thrilling narrative. The book is filled with several colorful characters as well as a truly despicable villain in Helen Kushnick. You could argue that she was just “doing her job”, but the way in which she is said to have spoken to colleagues, management and even Jay himself had taken me aback on multiple occasions. I’m looking forward to catching the HBO doc featuring Kathy Bates in the role of Helen that won her an Emmy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Allegra

    I mean, reading about whiny rich old dudes is only interesting for so long.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I started reading this author's Leno/Conan book first, and then I realized that I would get more out of it if I read the Leno/Letterman book first. It was really interesting to see how much flying by the seat of one's pants television executives do in real life. That said, the author's attention to detail gets a little excruciating at points. If you are one of those people who can't keep track of elf names in fantasy novels, you are going to get tired of trying to keep track of network executive I started reading this author's Leno/Conan book first, and then I realized that I would get more out of it if I read the Leno/Letterman book first. It was really interesting to see how much flying by the seat of one's pants television executives do in real life. That said, the author's attention to detail gets a little excruciating at points. If you are one of those people who can't keep track of elf names in fantasy novels, you are going to get tired of trying to keep track of network executive names in this book. They fly by with great speed. Carter does a really good job of trying really hard not to be cruel to Jay Leno but at the same time getting across what a weird inhuman robot he is. At some point, however, the litany of "stuff about how Jay is not great" gets extremely repetitive. A little more editing could have resulted in a much tighter and more elegant book. I think Gen-X (and older) readers who remember Johnny Carson will like this but younger readers are going to be puzzled about why people care so much about late night television.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cee

    After reading "The War for Late Night," I went back re-read Bill Carter's original book on the late night battle, "The Late Shift." Although the events of the book are now nearly twenty years old and most of the key figures (aside from Jay and Dave) have either died, left TV, or faded away, it's still a compelling narrative about the business of television and the inherent conflict between programming something "good" vs. programming something that looks good on a spreadsheet. And it's illuminatin After reading "The War for Late Night," I went back re-read Bill Carter's original book on the late night battle, "The Late Shift." Although the events of the book are now nearly twenty years old and most of the key figures (aside from Jay and Dave) have either died, left TV, or faded away, it's still a compelling narrative about the business of television and the inherent conflict between programming something "good" vs. programming something that looks good on a spreadsheet. And it's illuminating to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In both books, NBC has one time slot, the 11:30 pm "Tonight Show," but two stars who wants to host it. And two into one doesn't equal a whole number. In "The Late Shift," Johnny Carson, the king of late night television for 30 years, is retiring. NBC signed a secret deal with Jay Leno, the permanent guest host of the Tonight Show, some time earlier promising the job to Leno when Carson retires. But what NBC didn't take into consideration is that they already possessed a late night host who had been proving his chops (and earning NBC lots of money) in the person of David Letterman. Letterman hosted the 12:30 am "The Late Night" show for eight years, was considered the heir to Carson's legacy by none other than Carson, and thought the choice was clear: you give the job to the guy who puts out the best show. But Letterman was (is!) prickly, neurotic, painfully shy, and loved to bash NBC on the air. Leno was (is!) an inveterate people pleaser who tirelessly schmoozed NBC bosses and, more importantly, NBC affiliates around the clock. Yes, Dave was funnier, hipper, and had lots of support in the press. But Jay was nicer. In show business, it's not so much how you do the job, but whether people want to work with you. And the West Coast NBC executives, who made the programming decisions, wanted to work with Jay. Case closed. Only not so fast. Jay left open several windows for Dave. First, his manager, Helen Kushnick, was a control freak whose behavior became so unprofessional and adversarial that she had be fired. It's interesting reading Carter's take on Helen. Carter makes her out to be a bitch on wheels whose behavior verges on psychotic. However, Ari Emmanuel, Conan's agent in "The War for Late Night," is very well known for behaving exactly the same way: screaming, yelling, throwing tantrums, issuing threats (he's the inspiration for Ari Gold in the HBO series "Entourage.") Yet Ari comes off as a smart, savvy professional in the later book, while Helen is practically a cartoon monster in this one. Sexism is not dead in Hollywood, and this book reads as Exhibit One in how women are perceived vs. men. Be that as it may, Helen and her shenanigans leave a foul taste in NBC's mouth. Then Jay's ratings come in. They are decent, but not blockbuster. And they would certainly fall and NBC's very lucrative lock on the late night time period would end if another network could field a strong challenger. Cue the end of Dave's contract with NBC, which would allow him to look for another home. What happens next is old news to anyone with a television and a pulse. However, Carter tells the story - which is really just a bunch of agents and lawyers and executives sitting around a table and negotiating - with verve and finesse. It's a fast read, thanks to Carter skillful drawing of the characters. Even though the resolution occurred nearly 20 years ago, I was still anxious to learn the outcome of Bill Wright's various wheelings and dealings with Mike Ovitz (what is Ovitz up to these days?) and his own NBC/GE executives. In addition, since the events in this book still resonant to this day - as evident in Carter's later book - it's a must read for anyone interested in the business of television

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chip'sBookBinge

    Shocking, but this is the first time I've ever read this. This was another one of those books where the majority of the stuff within it's pages I had already heard about from different sources over the years: Online forums, Magazines, Entertainment News Shows, etc... So, for me there really was no desire to give this one a read. But then I heard that Bill Carter had a new book out called The War For Late Night, detailing the train wreck that was Jay Leno Vs. Conan O'Brien. Once I had a copy of t Shocking, but this is the first time I've ever read this. This was another one of those books where the majority of the stuff within it's pages I had already heard about from different sources over the years: Online forums, Magazines, Entertainment News Shows, etc... So, for me there really was no desire to give this one a read. But then I heard that Bill Carter had a new book out called The War For Late Night, detailing the train wreck that was Jay Leno Vs. Conan O'Brien. Once I had a copy of that book in my hand I decided that I might as well start with The Late Shift and make it a marathon read for myself. And I'm glad I did just that. Simply put, The Late Shift is hands down the nuttiest, wackiest soap opera ever printed on paper. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. The stuff that went down was so outlandish that it had to be made up. And yet, it's all real. The book itself reads like a roller coaster. There are so many peaks and valleys that you get dizzy after awhile. But you can't really ever put the book down at all, no matter how hard you try. The peaks in the book get to insane heights, and the highest of them all is of course Helen Kushnick. For those that don't know about her, she was Jay Leno's manager and Producer of the show who ruled with an iron fist. Even though this book is about Jay Leno and David Letterman fighting over who gets the keys to Johnny Carson desk on The Tonight Show, I believe the real star of the book is Helen, without a doubt. And once she is ousted from the show (as well as the book), it does take a big hit that you end up missing her crazy antics. I did anyways. The rest of the book continues with the roller coaster ride, but doesn't ever quite reach the same heights that you get with Helen at the forefront. This is why it gets a lesser rating from me. But that's not to say that the rest of the book sucks. There are still a handful of scenarios that will engage you all the way to the end: Jay hiding in a closet, David seeking council from Johnny and of course all the info pertaining to the pretenders to the throne: Arsenio Hall, Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, etc...Yes, even Conan O'brien is here. Duh. This is indeed a very fun, entertaining read that will have you flipping pages as fast as people were getting fired. I can easily recommend this to anyone that is a fan of Talk Shows or Soap Operas. I really hope that The War For Late Night doesn't disappoint here. But after The Late Shift, it's got a big task of at least equaling it. I still need to watch the movie version of The Late Shift. I have seen parts of it over the years, but never the entire movie all at once.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Max Tachis

    This is one of my absolute favorites and a must-read for any fan of stand up, late night, and the maddening inner-workings of the entertainment industry. Riveting journalism through terrific storytelling, the story of the (first) battle for The Tonight Show plays out in almost Shakespearean fashion and is brought to life not only by the television personalities that inhabit it but also by Mr. Carter's in-depth research. No stone is left unturned and no detail is omitted in crafting this retellin This is one of my absolute favorites and a must-read for any fan of stand up, late night, and the maddening inner-workings of the entertainment industry. Riveting journalism through terrific storytelling, the story of the (first) battle for The Tonight Show plays out in almost Shakespearean fashion and is brought to life not only by the television personalities that inhabit it but also by Mr. Carter's in-depth research. No stone is left unturned and no detail is omitted in crafting this retelling of events that took the broadcasting world by storm in the early-1990s and I'd imagine that even those who followed it when it was happening will learn something new. I am no fan of Jay Leno and am a rabid fan of David Letterman and fully expected, with the little knowledge I had of the history, that that would not change. Also, as a lifelong Conan O'Brien devotee, it's unlikely I'll ever get over the events of Carter's follow-up, "The War for Late Night" (which is followed in the moment vehemently). All that said, one of the most compelling elements of "The Late Shift" is the way Leno comes off to the reader; a nice enough guy who got stuck in the middle of a very unfortunately circumstance who, even though he technically "won", you almost feel sorry for. Almost.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    Bill Carter covers the inside-baseball aspects of the early 90s transition from Carson to Leno (and almost to Letterman) in a style that's almost suspenseful. I certainly remember the Leno-Letterman war that followed Johnny Carson's retirement, and was, at the time, a die-hard Letterman fan, but I had no idea what all took place in those shaky 2 years between Carson's retirement announcement and Leno's coronation. The most interesting parts of the book focus on the two stars -- Letterman and Leno Bill Carter covers the inside-baseball aspects of the early 90s transition from Carson to Leno (and almost to Letterman) in a style that's almost suspenseful. I certainly remember the Leno-Letterman war that followed Johnny Carson's retirement, and was, at the time, a die-hard Letterman fan, but I had no idea what all took place in those shaky 2 years between Carson's retirement announcement and Leno's coronation. The most interesting parts of the book focus on the two stars -- Letterman and Leno -- and how both project on-screen personalities that are extremely different from their actual attitudes. Letterman, here, comes off as an insecure, detail-obsessed, slightly vulnerable, and often mean guy while Leno seems almost robotic and at times even a little damaged, a guy so distant from his own emotions that he doesn't know what it means to be "upset" or "stressed." Add to these character studies the compelling and in-depth way that Carter tackles the idea of comedy as a business, as a craft, and you have a book that's not only entertaining but informative. It's a rise-and-fall-and-rise-again story that, although I knew the ending going in, still surprised me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    1. I don't watch a lot of late night TV. 2. I remember when Carson retired, and staying up to watch his last show, but I was only 13 or so at the time. I decided to read this book in light of all the latest late night hullabaloo surrounding Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno. I didn't expect to find myself so deeply interested in all of this, but I am. Before reading "The Late Shift" I was of the opinion that Conan O'Brien was really getting screwed by NBC, just as David Letterman had been years before. 1. I don't watch a lot of late night TV. 2. I remember when Carson retired, and staying up to watch his last show, but I was only 13 or so at the time. I decided to read this book in light of all the latest late night hullabaloo surrounding Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno. I didn't expect to find myself so deeply interested in all of this, but I am. Before reading "The Late Shift" I was of the opinion that Conan O'Brien was really getting screwed by NBC, just as David Letterman had been years before. This oponion is only reinforced now. So many of the things that happened *now* happened before. It's as if Jay Leno and NBC are in some crazy dysfunctional relationship where they can't lead seperate lives, and everyone else's career gets smashed in the fallout. David Letterman ended up laughing all the way to the bank after landing a deal on CBS, and I imagine that Conan will find a new (and better!) late night home, as well. As for the top brass at NBC and Jay Leno- they deserve each other. I'm sure Johnny Carson is rolling over in his grave.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Don

    The audience for this book is surely dwindling, as I can't imagine that many people still care about the Letterman-Leno battle of the 1990s. I do, of course, and will go to my grave with a giant chip on my shoulder for how NBC treated Dave. For those of you who don't care, I'd say skip this one. There are some interesting character studies -- e.g. the sections about Leno's manager, Helen Kushnick -- but not a whole lot in here for those without some connection to late night television of that er The audience for this book is surely dwindling, as I can't imagine that many people still care about the Letterman-Leno battle of the 1990s. I do, of course, and will go to my grave with a giant chip on my shoulder for how NBC treated Dave. For those of you who don't care, I'd say skip this one. There are some interesting character studies -- e.g. the sections about Leno's manager, Helen Kushnick -- but not a whole lot in here for those without some connection to late night television of that era.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Sprouse

    The too wild to be anything but true story of Jay Leno's ascension to the Tonight Show throne. Late Shift dishes the inside dirt on Leno, Letterman, and Carson. Mostly Leno and his hell for leather manager, Helen Kushniak. When Carson announced his retirement in 1992 NBC already had a plan to replace him with Jay Leno, not bothering to tell David Letterman. This would start a chain of events that would change late night TV forever. The fight would escalate pitting star VS. star and network again The too wild to be anything but true story of Jay Leno's ascension to the Tonight Show throne. Late Shift dishes the inside dirt on Leno, Letterman, and Carson. Mostly Leno and his hell for leather manager, Helen Kushniak. When Carson announced his retirement in 1992 NBC already had a plan to replace him with Jay Leno, not bothering to tell David Letterman. This would start a chain of events that would change late night TV forever. The fight would escalate pitting star VS. star and network against network. .

  11. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is a relic from a time when late night television was still a major deal: a factor in lives that did not yet have the internet or hundreds or even thousands of other viewing options. Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show. He was once the undisputed King of Late Night in a uniquely American invented television format. When he announced his retirement in 1993, it sent a shockwave through the industry. The race was on to determine who would succeed him. In one corner, was the cle This book is a relic from a time when late night television was still a major deal: a factor in lives that did not yet have the internet or hundreds or even thousands of other viewing options. Johnny Carson was the host of The Tonight Show. He was once the undisputed King of Late Night in a uniquely American invented television format. When he announced his retirement in 1993, it sent a shockwave through the industry. The race was on to determine who would succeed him. In one corner, was the clear front runner: Jay Leno, a comic’s comic, a company man, a unique talent. Leno was nothing if not solid, on-time, hardworking, broad and obvious and palatable to middle class America. In the other corner was off-beat and mildly cantankerous host of a late-night show that came on well after most normal people are asleep. David Letterman was regarded as a once in a generation talent…if only he could get out of his own way. The story of the behind-the-scenes machinations reads like the 90’s version of a Shakespeare play. The prize is the big chair at the most-watched late night show, a prize that held two men in its grasp. And the lengths to which each would go (Jay Leno hid in a closet to get the dirt on what his NBC colleagues were saying about him) is at times fascinating. This is about show business, and people doing business things for the people for whom they work. It is a time capsule and a historical document. I already have the next chapter of this lined up to read. Very enjoyable.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Danielle Healy

    Four stars because the book ended with a conclusion even though neither of their careers were even close to over when this book was published lol. Otherwise great read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Yehia Shehata

    This book gives a great insight into one of my favorite subject: American Late Night. I used to enjoy David Letterman's work immensely. I also love me some Craig Ferguson and Conan O'Brien. While I'm not a big fan of Jay Leno *ahem*, this book gave me a bit of a look into the man's career and motives, and made me more sympathetic to him as a person. Turns out there was a lot I didn't know about the so-called late night wars, I never watched Carson before, but in my mind he was this legendary figu This book gives a great insight into one of my favorite subject: American Late Night. I used to enjoy David Letterman's work immensely. I also love me some Craig Ferguson and Conan O'Brien. While I'm not a big fan of Jay Leno *ahem*, this book gave me a bit of a look into the man's career and motives, and made me more sympathetic to him as a person. Turns out there was a lot I didn't know about the so-called late night wars, I never watched Carson before, but in my mind he was this legendary figure, I just never realized the power the man had over late night, it was scary whenever somebody incurred the wrath of Johnny. In this book, you will find a look into how Jay and Dave started, and the ups and downs of their early late night turf wars, as well as some stupid network tricks, shady executives and some great writing on Bill Carter's part. Never a dull moment in this book. I gotta say that I relate to Dave more as a person, we share some of the same characteristics and flaws, he's still my all time top late night host. I'm definitely going to pick up the follow-up to this book, for more late night shenanigans.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chip Redihan

    Great read. A little tedious at times but interesting nevertheless. I think I would have liked it more if it was written say 5 years later so the author could offer more perspective on the fallout from Lettermans departure from NBC. I'd give this a 4.5 Great read. A little tedious at times but interesting nevertheless. I think I would have liked it more if it was written say 5 years later so the author could offer more perspective on the fallout from Lettermans departure from NBC. I'd give this a 4.5

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ruben

    A thorough insight to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that created, extinguished, then rekindled and prolonged the hand-off of America's greatest television program, The Tonight Show. The book outlines the careers of both David Letterman and Jay Leno; introduces their respective "camps;" and details the battles they faced as they pursued the late night crown. Bill Carter does a great job of gathering and sharing insider info from both sides of the battle, as well as the corporate perspective. A thorough insight to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that created, extinguished, then rekindled and prolonged the hand-off of America's greatest television program, The Tonight Show. The book outlines the careers of both David Letterman and Jay Leno; introduces their respective "camps;" and details the battles they faced as they pursued the late night crown. Bill Carter does a great job of gathering and sharing insider info from both sides of the battle, as well as the corporate perspective. Though not necessarily the purpose of the book, it demonstrates the real life impact that business decisions have on the lives of people who are often treated as disposable products.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Noah

    I don't know how accurate it is, but you really feel like you are right there in the middle of the story. Amazing inside account, I really hope there is a sequel in the works that covers the recent tonight show debacle. I don't know how accurate it is, but you really feel like you are right there in the middle of the story. Amazing inside account, I really hope there is a sequel in the works that covers the recent tonight show debacle.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    I read this in less than a 24 hour period. Being a fan of late night television at different points of my life, this was the book to tell you all about it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David

    THE LATE SHIFT: LETTERMAN, LENO, AND THE NETWORK BATTLE FOR THE NIGHT, by Bill Carter is a "must read" for anyone interested in the history of late night television, it's stars, and 1980s/90s American television in general. Carter details how it all started with Johnny Carson's announcement on Thursday, May 23, 1991, at an NBC annual affiliates convention that, after nearly thirty years of hosting "The Tonight Show", Carson would be retiring and stepping down, and how, just a few days prior to t THE LATE SHIFT: LETTERMAN, LENO, AND THE NETWORK BATTLE FOR THE NIGHT, by Bill Carter is a "must read" for anyone interested in the history of late night television, it's stars, and 1980s/90s American television in general. Carter details how it all started with Johnny Carson's announcement on Thursday, May 23, 1991, at an NBC annual affiliates convention that, after nearly thirty years of hosting "The Tonight Show", Carson would be retiring and stepping down, and how, just a few days prior to that, NBC had just resigned Jay Leno to a contract renewal as Carson's regular back up host with a stipulation in the contract that should Carson ever step down, Leno would be the next regular host of "The Tonight Show". This started a chain reaction of events that would become one of NBC's biggest ongoing headaches of all time. David Letterman, then host of NBC's 12:30 am week night show, "Late Night With David Letterman", had been a bit in his time slot, especially with the all important "younger viewers" demographic group, for ten years, and he had always dreamed of taking Carson's spot as host of "The Tonight Show". At the advice of the producers of his show, Letterman hired a powerful, new agent and announced that he wanted out of his contract if NBC followed through on giving the "Tonight Show" to Leno, despite Letterman never having asked to have anything in writing prior to Carson's stepping down to claim the hosting job for himself. CBS, eager to have a popular show in late night for the first time, was just one of many interested suitors for Letterman. And NBC wanted to keep Letterman in their late night line up. Carter follows the many twists and turns that occurred from the time Carson announced his retirement, to Letterman's move to CBS in 1993 to host "The Late Show With David Letterman" directly opposite Leno and NBC's "Tonight Show" (and, up to the time the book was released, regularly beating "Tonight" in the ratings). Readers are introduced to the many network executives who quickly took sides in the Leno-Letterman controversy, the head of NBC who had to make the ultimate choice, the agents who represented Letterman and Leno, and the other stars who succeeded (Arsenio Hall) and failed (Joan Rivers, Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase) in the late night arena. I have never read a book that went to *this* extent in detailing the *business* end of television show business. Not only is THE LATE SHIFT an education into how network television deals are done even to this day, it also offers a look into the psyches of both David Letterman and Jay Leno, and the very difficult decision of whether to 1) stay with Leno (who already had the job and, though not the overall talent that Letterman was, had proven himself to be very loyal, cooperative, and hardworking), or 2) to publicly unseat Leno and give the "Tonight Show" to Letterman (overall a more talented talk show host than Leno who was very popular with younger viewers but who had often been openly uncooperative with and derisive of NBC in the past, and who many questioned if had the ability to appeal to a wider audience at the 11:30 pm timeslot). I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject matter that it covers.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alex Gherzo

    The battle for The Tonight Show following Johnny Carson's departure is a fascinating story of showbiz inside baseball, and thank God Bill Carter was able to chronicle it so exhaustively. I saw the HBO movie made from the book, and while it's excellent (John Michael Higgins' performance as David Letterman has to be seen to be believed; Daniel Roebuck as Jay Leno, on the other hand, feels more like a caricature), but the book goes into much more detail, giving comprehensive accounts of the deal-ma The battle for The Tonight Show following Johnny Carson's departure is a fascinating story of showbiz inside baseball, and thank God Bill Carter was able to chronicle it so exhaustively. I saw the HBO movie made from the book, and while it's excellent (John Michael Higgins' performance as David Letterman has to be seen to be believed; Daniel Roebuck as Jay Leno, on the other hand, feels more like a caricature), but the book goes into much more detail, giving comprehensive accounts of the deal-making behind the scenes. There were elements to this I never knew, like that NBC was offering Dana Carvey a late night show, and the role Lorne Michaels played in ironing out the complete mess the network had made of succeeding Johnny Carson. Letterman and Leno's backgrounds are also provided, giving some insight into who they really are and what The Tonight Show means to them. Carter doesn't take sides, showing the good and bad actions of both late night figures. I was surpised by the number of grammatical errors in the book, though; it feels like there was no editing process, with words missing here and there, among many other glaring mistakes. But the story is the point, and it's a doozy. If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, you have to read The Late Shift.

  20. 5 out of 5

    David

    A fantastic read. I remember wanting to get this back when it was first printed and now more than 20 years later my wife got it for me for Father's Day. I zipped right through it. A fascinating account of the heyday of late night. While it's focused on Letterman-Leno, Bill Carter also touches on the influence of other late-night hosts of the era. Incredible balance and details to this account that stretched over several years with NBC bumbling its way through. Someone make a decision already!!! B A fantastic read. I remember wanting to get this back when it was first printed and now more than 20 years later my wife got it for me for Father's Day. I zipped right through it. A fascinating account of the heyday of late night. While it's focused on Letterman-Leno, Bill Carter also touches on the influence of other late-night hosts of the era. Incredible balance and details to this account that stretched over several years with NBC bumbling its way through. Someone make a decision already!!! Bill Carter's research and reporting are superb. Before I turned the last pages of Late Shift, I was already searching out other books he had written. For the record, I was always a Dave guy :)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Oh man. EVERYONE is a jerk in this book. Leno's either a complete fool or and idiot, I'm not sure. I don't see how - at least from what's presented here - that he managed to stay on for the next twenty-odd years. And NBC wanting to have their cake and eat it too...that was an idiotic idea from start to finish. Letterman - who I was initially sympathetic towards - comes off as Sheldon-like in his mannerisms and complete fear of change. I'm glad it worked out for him in the end, but he really shou Oh man. EVERYONE is a jerk in this book. Leno's either a complete fool or and idiot, I'm not sure. I don't see how - at least from what's presented here - that he managed to stay on for the next twenty-odd years. And NBC wanting to have their cake and eat it too...that was an idiotic idea from start to finish. Letterman - who I was initially sympathetic towards - comes off as Sheldon-like in his mannerisms and complete fear of change. I'm glad it worked out for him in the end, but he really should have fought harder in the beginning instead of hiding every single time it came up. If he didn't have such dedicated cronies, I don't think he would have even gotten the CBS deal. I had some other thoughts while reading it but as I was on vacation I didn't have a notebook to write them down. Big thought though: I can't believe that after all this and what NBC should have learned they went and did it all over again with Conan. I have that book lined up and I'll be starting it shortly.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael Malone

    Extensively reported close-up of the battle for Tonight Show successor to Carson between Leno and Letterman. Leno is portrayed as a good guy, dedicated to NBC and to his co-workers, but pretty inept as host of the show. Letterman, on the other hand, is seen as a shining light in terms of TV talent. The book ends with Letterman moving into the 11:30 slot on CBS, and winning the race. After the book comes out, Leno had the upper hand for years. Carter goes way deep to unearth some fun details of t Extensively reported close-up of the battle for Tonight Show successor to Carson between Leno and Letterman. Leno is portrayed as a good guy, dedicated to NBC and to his co-workers, but pretty inept as host of the show. Letterman, on the other hand, is seen as a shining light in terms of TV talent. The book ends with Letterman moving into the 11:30 slot on CBS, and winning the race. After the book comes out, Leno had the upper hand for years. Carter goes way deep to unearth some fun details of the battle, including, of course, Leno hiding in a closet to listen in on a meeting of NBC brass.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Johnson

    Always interesting to read about the day to day dealings of the rich and famous, but like Carter's follow-up book, The War For Late Night, this perhaps goes into more detail about this area than most people need. To a Brit such as myself, the phenomenon of late night TV in America is a curious beast, and you have to chuckle at the amount of energy and attention the TV industry bestows upon it. Four star, but mainly for the journalistic rigour. Always interesting to read about the day to day dealings of the rich and famous, but like Carter's follow-up book, The War For Late Night, this perhaps goes into more detail about this area than most people need. To a Brit such as myself, the phenomenon of late night TV in America is a curious beast, and you have to chuckle at the amount of energy and attention the TV industry bestows upon it. Four star, but mainly for the journalistic rigour.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Micah Taylor

    I love David Letterman, late night in general, and stories about the entertainment industry; still, this book is a full 100 pages too long, with an extremely dense and repetitive middle. The story itself is so deeply researched and truly fascinating, but the writing spins in circles that some sections are more of a slog than a pleasure. Still a great record of one of the most important fascinating parts of American TV history.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I loved this one. But I'm a gigantic TV nerd that finds ratings and contracts interesting. How one phrase here or there at this point in time changed the TV landscape forever. If you don't care for the business moves behind the battle for Late Night in 1992, you may want to pass. It's very heavy on the executives' moves and thoughts. You do get a great sense of the atmosphere in TV in 1992. It's crazy to think there was no battle in late-night until this period. The book is well researched and t I loved this one. But I'm a gigantic TV nerd that finds ratings and contracts interesting. How one phrase here or there at this point in time changed the TV landscape forever. If you don't care for the business moves behind the battle for Late Night in 1992, you may want to pass. It's very heavy on the executives' moves and thoughts. You do get a great sense of the atmosphere in TV in 1992. It's crazy to think there was no battle in late-night until this period. The book is well researched and the sources and quotes are top-notch. I HAVE to read his follow-up about Conan and Leno now.

  26. 5 out of 5

    I Ally

    A well-written documentation of what went on behind the scenes regarding the David Letterman/Jay Leno Tonight Show hosting fiasco! My only problem with the book is that sometimes it can be dragging especially in areas dealing with some of the network executives, characters we as the public aren't as familiar with as we are with David Letterman and Jay Leno themselves. A well-written documentation of what went on behind the scenes regarding the David Letterman/Jay Leno Tonight Show hosting fiasco! My only problem with the book is that sometimes it can be dragging especially in areas dealing with some of the network executives, characters we as the public aren't as familiar with as we are with David Letterman and Jay Leno themselves.

  27. 4 out of 5

    William Evans

    I shouldn’t be surprised. These kind of books aren’t just for me. Or this angle on these kind of stories just don’t cut it for me. I prefer Oral History for stories that are so focused on the minutiae of backroom dealings. Just not for me. Whereas the Conan fiasco sequel has far more clarity and a real narrative arc, this is way more formless. Oh well. Enjoyed what I got out of it though!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jim Davidson

    This book is a thorough treatment of the late night talk show battles of the early 1990’s. The problem is, at times, the author is almost TOO thorough, leading the reader to think ‘we’ve got it, let’s move on’. Still, this well researched book should keep anyone who remembers these crazy pre-internet days entertained.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ninjabookman

    Good but could be shorter This is a good book and I respect the neutrality of the author. However, there are times where he repeats himself for paragraphs where a simple sentence to sum up or remind the reader would do. It hurts the flow. Also, the kindle edition had plenty of typos and errors.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Matt Vaughan

    Even though Leno and Letterman are late night hosts from before my time (kind of), I found this completely fascinating. The twists and turns, the talented guy vs. the safe guy, the mis-steps, the subterfuge, the negotiations. On paper, a lot of this stuff should have turned me off, but this is such a good ride. I really want to read the follow up on the whole Conan saga now.

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