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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 <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
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
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