The Late Shift (1996)

TV Movie  |  R  |   |  Comedy, Drama, Talk-Show  |  24 February 1996 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 2,256 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."



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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


Letterman, Leno and the battle over the Tonight Show. 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
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Did You Know?


Anthony Heald was considered for the role of Michael Ovitz. See more »


When David is telling Jay at the conference to call Morty and he'll book him on the show, Dave points at Jay and his hand switches from right to left. See more »


David Letterman: [outside CBS Studios right before the press conference] Gentlemen, we are just going from one bizarre circumstance to the next.
See more »


References Late Show with David Letterman (1993) See more »


Johnny's Theme
Written by Paul Anka and Johnny Carson
Chrysalis Standards, Inc. / Here's Johnny Music / Songs of Polygram Int'l
See more »

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User Reviews

A Fascinating Look at one of Hollywood's most interesting Power Struggles
16 May 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

THE LATE SHIFT was an interesting made for HBO movie that took a detailed look at the power struggle that ensued between David Letterman and Jay Leno when Johnny Carson announced his retirement and both wanted to replace him. This struggle is now part of Hollywood folklore, but for those who don't know the story and are aware of where Letterman is now, it might be interesting to learn that David Letterman wanted to replace Johnny Carson as host of THE TONIGHT SHOW more than anything in the world, but Letterman found his dreams being derailed as frequent guest host Leno had one of Hollywood's most powerful agents, Helen Kushnick, in his corner and working tirelessly to get her client the job. It's not often that we get to see behind the scenes Hollywood machinations recreated for entertainment value, but for fans of these two late night superstars, this movie provided a fascinating look at a very turbulent period in late night television. According to this movie, Letterman was practically promised the job by Carson himself while NBC had promised the job to Leno and that's where Helen Kushnick came in. The movie presents Leno as sort of a milquetoast who allowed his career to be manipulated by Kushnick and feigned ignorance to some of Helen's strong-willed manipulations of some of NBC's biggest power players and it presents Letterman as this smart and savvy businessman who, despite having Carson's support, was railroaded by NBC and Kushnick. John Michael Higgins and Daniel Roebuck credibly recreate Letterman and Leno, respectively, but it is the razor-sharp performance of Oscar winner Kathy Bates as Helen Kushnick that keeps this movie bubbling. Bates commands the screen in one of her best, if not so well-known performances as the venomous Hollywood agent who eats television studio executives for breakfast. There is also a wonderful turn by impressionist Rich Little as Johnny Carson, but it is primarily a fascinating story and the powerhouse performance by Bates that make this one worth checking out.

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