The Late Shift Review

The Late Shift Review

“Two heads fighting for the late night crown – One head’s gotta roll”

The Late Shift is a film that charts what happened when Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show in May 1991, and who was to go on to host it. The battle was, of course, between David Letterman and Jay Leno. The Late Shift is a made-for-TV HBO film. The film is very insightful and goes into great detail – especially of the relationship between Jay Leno and his agent (played by Kathy Bates). Kathy Bates gives an excellent performance as Jay’s agent.

Dave was rumoured to be Johnny Carson’s choice to host The Tonight Show – which was indicated when Johnny appeared on Dave’s new show – the Late Show With David Letterman – when Dave didn’t get The Tonight Show. Johnny never appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, which led to people believing Johnny didn’t liken to Jay.

Anyway – back to the film. It was said hosting The Tonight Show after Johnny Carson was David Letterman’s number one ambition, and throughout the film you see him fighting Jay Leno to get into the hotseat – he even goes as far as hiring an agent (something he was against doing). However, you will see Jay won the battle and Dave was offered a contract with CBS, and – as they say – the rest is history. Dave went to CBS as NBC refused to offer him an 11.30pm slot – only the 12.30am slot that he had for Late Night With David Letterman.

David Letterman at the CBS press conference announcing he is coming to CBS with the Late Show With David Letterman - Image from The Story Of Light Entertainment aired on BBC TWO in 2006 - No copyright infringement intended

This was the network battle to end all network battles.

Outstanding performances from Kathy Bates – and John Michael Higgins (who plays David Letterman) and Daniel Roebuck (who plays Jay Leno) – although John and Daniel’s portrayals of Dave and Jay may not be entirely accurate, in my opinion. They appear to show David Letterman as bitter and twisted, which I wouldn’t believe is true.

Nevertheless, it is a must have for any Dave or Jay enthusiast. The film doesn’t mention Conan O’Brien getting Dave’s old show – Late Night – on NBC, which I think should have been covered briefly, at least. This film originated from a book, which – although I haven’t read it – supposedly goes into more detail than the film does. This is one of the most insightful films I have seen in recent years, and it’s highly recommended.