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The Late Shift
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Late Shift (TV) More at IMDbPro »

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15 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Excellent account of the late night wars.

10/10
Author: erasmus9 from Bradenton, Florida
20 July 2000

Captivating tale of backstabbing behind the curtains. The movie follows the plight of David Letterman and Jay Leno as they struggle for the elusive Tonight Show spot. Letterman led by his desire for the coveted time slot and Leno led by his agent and little-devil-on-the-shoulder, Helen Kushnick.

Kathy Bates (Kushnick) is excellent in this movie, alienating herself from such top dogs as Bob Wright, Warren Littlefield, and Howard Stringer. Towards the end of the film you are so entranced with how she handles every situation from guest bookings to delayed taping, that you find yourself wanting more.

John Michael Higgins (Letterman) plays his part to the tee. At times I found myself wondering if he was any relation to the real Letterman.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in entertainment or the world of corporate negotiations.

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16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

A great look behind the scenes

10/10
Author: mikey_editor from Paris
18 December 2004

as a former TV editor, I can say this is as authentic as it gets. It even led to Letterman's producer (thought to be a source) resigning (eventually) in real life. Letterman was outraged (OK, so one goofy thing is it has him throwing softballs at a tire swing on his estate; total fabrication) but the main information is hilariously true, from the silly bidding war for Letterman once he decided to leave NBC to Leno's problems with an agent who was not ready for big time, but who he let run the show (almost to a disastrous exit) out of his famed loyalty. If any of you kids don't grasp the idea of why Letterman is jealous to this day, see this tape.

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12 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

A Fascinating Look at one of Hollywood's most interesting Power Struggles

7/10
Author: Isaac5855 from United States
16 May 2007

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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13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

I don't know how true it is, but it's mighty entertaining!

8/10
Author: AlabamaWorley1971 from NJ, USA
11 March 2000

I think this movie actually has a lot of nice things to say about a lot of people (Johnny Carson, Ted Koppel), and it shows that Letterman and Leno actually liked and respected each other a lot. Treat Williams as the half-Kung Fu Master, half-Godfather-like Mike Ovitz is terrific.

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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

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.

9/10
Author: Danny Blankenship from Petersburg, Virginia
31 May 2008

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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8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Enjoyable Behind-the-Scenes Look at Television

10/10
Author: fx_gent from Fairfax, VA
11 August 2002

Although a made for cable film by HBO, it is an enjoyable movie and a fascinating look at the back-stabbing and double-dealing world of television. Allowing the viewer to peek behind the scenes of the so-called late night talk show wars in the early 90s, as Jay Leno and David Letterman competed for the coveted position as host of the Tonight Show. Kathy Bates gives a bravo performance as Leno's mercurial manager Helen Kushnick and one can feel empathy for what Leno/Letterman endured at the hands of tv executives. It is just as timely now, considering the recent events involving the failed attempt by ABC to replace Nightline with Letterman. No matter how many times I have seen this film, I still find it as much a pleasure to watch as I did when it first aired. If this should ever be released on DVD, I would certainly add it to my collection.

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11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

A really good movie.

8/10
Author: J.A. Shooter from Mankato, Minnesota
3 October 2002

Alright, so maybe the impersonations of Jay Leno and David Letterman are not spot on, but you still get a sense of who these people are and how they operate behind the screen. Bob Balaban and Treat Williams are excellant as Warren Littlefield and Micheal Ovitz.

The movie doesn't go for joke and punchline but it is still funny. Kathy Bates in particular is amazing as Leno's manager.

Funny, amazing, interesting, very watchable, this is a good TV movie.

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Two men, one show, two networks

9/10
Author: Spuzzlightyear from Vancouver
20 June 2005

The Late Shift is a great book, I read the book several years ago, and I was transfixed at the cutthroat debauchery that went on when Johnny Carson retired and Jay Leno and Johnny Carson tried to grab his spot. When the movie came out, I snagged a VHS copy of the movie, and having reread the book recently, it's hard to say which I enjoy more, because they're quite equal in the amount of information conveyed. The two lead actors, John Michael Higgins, and Daniel Roebuck, two actors I never heard of before, and haven't heard of since, play Leno and Letterman convincingly, despite Letterman's dismissal of his portrayal as being poor. They play the parts quite well, despite a lot of people looking for an imitation of the two. I wasn't as interested in that. The story is what counts. And that brings me to Kathy Bates. Kathy Bates, playing Helen Kushnick, IS this movie. She plays this evil bitch of a character so menacingly you realize how on earth can this woman control herself, much less a national TV show. Yikes! There should be a sequel!!

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Solid Account Of The Leno-Letterman Battle

7/10
Author: sddavis63 (revsdd@gmail.com) from Niagara Region, Ontario, Canada
18 October 2009

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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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

And I thought comedy was harmless...

8/10
Author: wolf1282 from United States
28 October 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

***SPOILERS*** This film depicts the brutal bloodbath caused by the retirement of Johnny Carson to determine who would succeed him. The impersonations of David Letterman and Jay Leno are performed in a satisfactory way by John Michael Higgins and Daniel Roebuck, though the performances weren't great. Reni Santoni is the best-performing of the "execs" (he plays John Agoglia of NBC), and Warren Littlefield (played by Bob Baliban) is a close second. I was shocked at the way in which Littlefield eagerly discussed dumping Johnny Carson. This was Johnny Carson! This scene evinces the cut-throat, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of television. Kathy Bates delivered the best performance of the film as Jay's agent, Helen Kushnick. Another commenter asserted that Leno was portrayed as a simpleton in the film. I respectfully disagree. The relationship with Kushnick bordered on something akin to domestic violence. She orders him around, and, when he rebels against her at the end, she tries to play the sympathy card (mentioning her dead husband and son); however, when Jay terminates their relationship, she turns violent again, screaming "Don't you leave me, you two-faced bastard!" before smashing a picture on the floor. Overall, the movie is hilarious, and I wish that it were shown more often.

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