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The Late Shift (1996)

TV Movie  |  R  |   |  Comedy, Drama, Talk-Show  |  24 February 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 2,244 users  
Reviews: 28 user | 4 critic

A dramatization of the rivalry to be the successor of Johnny Carson as the host of "The Tonight Show."



(book), (teleplay), 1 more credit »
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Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 4 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rod Perth
Howard Stringer
John Agoglia
Bob Wright
Sandra Bernhard
Alan Levine
Rick Ludwin


HBO movie about the behind-the-scenes network politics responsible for the changes in late-night talk-show hosts, after the retirement of Johnny Carson from the Tonight Show on NBC. Jay Leno and David Letterman were both vying for the position, but Leno's tough manager Helen Kushnick got him the spot. In the wake of her 'stepping on the toes' of powerful network executives and 'playing hardball' tactics with guest bookings, she found herself being pushed out of her job as Tonight Show Executive Producer and Jay's manager. Letterman, devastated by his being passed over, brought in superagent Mike Ovitz to negotiate on his behalf, resulting in his move to CBS. Written by Tad Dibbern <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Two heads fighting for the late night crown - One head's gotta roll. See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

24 February 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Changement de décors  »

Box Office


$6,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Bob Balaban who played NBC President Warren Littlefield, played the character Russell Dalrymple on the series, Seinfeld who is an NBC executive who was inspired by Littlefield. See more »


In an early scene set in 1990, Helen Kushnick and Warren Littlefield are seen talking on carphones about the possibility of Leno being guaranteed the Tonight Show when Carson finally decides to quit. Littlefield is driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee with the ZJ body style, which wasn't introduced until 1993. See more »


Jay Leno: I may look stupid, but I'm Italian. I know how to find information!
See more »


References The Pat Sajak Show (1989) See more »


There's No Business Like Show Business
Performed by Ethel Merman
Written by Irving Berlin
Irving Berlin Music Company
Courtesy RCA Victor Red Seal Division of BMG Classics
See more »

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User Reviews

Solid Account Of The Leno-Letterman Battle
18 October 2009 | by (Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada) – See all my reviews

I read the book written by Bill Carter on which this movie is based many years ago. The book is certainly stronger than the movie. It provides more detail than a movie can possibly provide, the end result being that I thought the movie seemed a wee bit sketchy on a handful of items. All things considered, though, and given the limitations of the medium, the movie provides a wholly entertaining and informative account of the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman in the early 90's to host "The Tonight Show" after the retirement of Johnny Carson.

The highlight is clearly the performances. I can think of no more difficult performance for an actor than to play a character who is still alive and well-known and on TV on a regular basis. John Michael Higgins nailed the part of Letterman perfectly. Watching him really was like watching Letterman. Daniel Roebuck tried valiantly to be Jay Leno, but somehow didn't pull it off as effectively. His whole "look" seemed fake, and he just didn't seem natural in the role. In a less central role, Rich Little not surprisingly nailed the voice of Carson, although the look was a bit off. In the book, the most interesting of the central figures was probably Leno's agent, Helen Kushnick. In the movie, Kathy Bates was perfect in the role, although not quite as out of control as Carter's portrayal of the woman in writing.

In the end, this is light and entertaining viewing. The subject matter isn't especially important in the overall scheme of things, but it's a fun behind the scenes look at a memorable time in the entertainment industry. 7/10

3 of 3 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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