29 user 6 critic

The Late Shift (1996)

A dramatization of the rivalry between David Letterman and Jay Leno to over which of them would succeed 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:
Warren Littlefield
Rod Perth
Howard Stringer
John Agoglia
Robert Morton
Peter Lassally
Brandon Tartikoff
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 <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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


Comedy | Drama

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)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


A few days after the film's premiere, John Michael Higgins was booked on Late Show with David Letterman (1993) to talk about the movie and what it was like to portray Letterman. Higgins then sat in the green room as Letterman spent the next hour padding bits and doing filler, all the while promising Higgins was "coming up". At the end of the show Letterman apologized to Higgins for "running out of time", pointedly saying he hoped the actor could "come back again soon." Higgins was never re-booked. 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!
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References L.A. Law (1986) 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
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User Reviews

Well done and good original movie dramatization that's funny and tense while taking a behind the scenes look at the late night TV wars of the early 90's.
31 May 2008 | by See all my reviews

Over the years I've watched this movie many times from seeing it on "HBO" and I now own a copy on DVD. I must say it's very memorable and entertaining in the meantime it's interesting and educational too. As any TV fan can relate to the time of the early 90's when the time came up to replace Johhny Carson the TV living legend of "The Tonight Show" who's it gonna be Jay or Dave? This original film from HBO "The Late Shift" stays true to form and depicts the real events very well showing the behind the scenes battle between networks heads of NBC and CBS and even ABC they were all fighting for the services of Jay and Dave. The acting makes it seem real as very little actual TV footage is shown with real life people as the actors portraying Leno and Letterman make it seem so real. I haven't read the Bill Carter book so I don't know if it stayed true to the pages, but I have highly enjoyed this film over the years. From the moment when it starts showing CBS entertainment heads watching Leno sub for Johhny and they decide they want to get in on the late night game. Yet when Carson announces his unexpected retirement NBC wants to stay loyal with Leno yet conflict arrives when Letterman wants a crack at the slot at 11:30 too. It was fun to watch the wacky meeting with Michael Ovitz(Treat Williams)who makes all networks want to consider Letterman for a show. It was interesting to see the scene of Johhny telling Letterman by phone in a direct way to walk from NBC and consider CBS. And by the way Rich Little was terrific as Johhny Carson his portrayal couldn't be matched. And plenty of tense moments were provided by showing the bickering and firing of Leno's talent manager Helen which NBC heads pressured him to do. Overall great film that showed what TV is really like and it proves that networks are power and money hungry while showing that's it's a cutthroat business. Clearly there's no business like show business. Great work from HBO very memorable and a watch anytime it showed the true story of the late night wars.

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