The Late Shift

The Late Shift Information

The Late Shift}}

The Late Shift is a 1996 American TV movie produced by HBO. It was directed by Betty Thomas and based on the book of the same name by The New York Times media reporter Bill Carter.

Plot synopsis

Behind-the-scenes network politics embroil television executives responsible for late-night programming after 1991's unexpected retirement announcement of Johnny Carson (played by Rich Little) from The Tonight Show on NBC.

Carson's permanent guest host Jay Leno (Daniel Roebuck) and the host of the show that follows Carson's each night, David Letterman (John Michael Higgins), both vie for the position. It is widely assumed that Letterman is the hand-picked heir apparent Carson favors, but privately NBC executives speculate that Leno could be more popular with 11:30 p.m. audiences, as well as easier for the network to deal with and control.

Leno's tough manager Helen Kushnick (Kathy Bates) secures the spot for Leno with negotiating tactics that could be construed as either shrewd or unethical. Leno is concerned that her methods might alienate Carson, but he made promises to Kushnick after his career took off and does not wish to be disloyal. She harshly instructs the comic to just keep telling jokes and leave the business end to her.

Sure enough, she lands Leno the coveted job as Tonight Show host and the producer's position for herself, on the condition that no public announcement will be made. Letterman continues to believe he is still in contention for the position. Another reason NBC's executives prefer Leno is that they will own the show, whereas Letterman stipulates that he will maintain ownership rights to his.

Kushnick's abrasive and threatening manner angers Leno's bosses, colleagues, potential guests, and others. The top NBC executives warn the mild-mannered Leno that they are going to fire Kushnick and, if he sides with her, he might be let go as well. Leno eavesdrops on a private executive meeting in which they discuss the possibility of having Letterman step in as host. The final say falls to the chairman of NBC's then-parent company General Electric, Jack Welch, who advises the NBC executives that they should remain loyal to Leno.

Letterman, devastated at being passed over, hires Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz (Treat Williams) to negotiate on his behalf, resulting in Letterman's courtship by a number of major networks and syndicates. He continues to hold onto his lifelong dream of hosting The Tonight Show, but when Tonight Show/Late Show producer Peter Lassally (Steven Gilborn) makes it clear that the Tonight job is now "damaged goods," and that he would be working with the very people who passed him by (and after a call to Carson), Letterman accepts a lucrative offer to host his own 11:30 show on CBS.

Kushnick is dismissed by NBC and barred from the studio lot. She pleads with Leno to keep his promise to her, but he is livid that she nearly cost him a dream job. Letterman and Leno ultimately go head to head at 11:30, with Letterman winning in the TV ratings in the beginning, then Leno firmly re-establishing his show's dominance. Their personal relationship, once cordial, is never quite the same.


Actor Role
Kathy Bates Helen Kushnick
John Michael Higgins David Letterman
Daniel Roebuck Jay Leno
Bob Balaban Warren Littlefield
Ed Begley, Jr. Rod Perth
Peter Jurasik Howard Stringer
Reni Santoni John Agoglia
John Kapelos Robert Morton
Steven Gilborn Peter Lassally
John Getz Brandon Tartikoff
Lawrence Pressman Bob Wright
Sandra Bernhard Herself
Treat Williams Michael Ovitz
Paul Elder Rupert Murdoch
Michael Fairman Michael Gartner
Ken Kragen Himself
Aaron Lustig Paul Shaffer
Kevin Scannell Dick Ebersol
Edmund L. Shaff Jack Welch
Rich Little Johnny Carson
Little Richard Himself
Real life CBS executive Rod Perth (played by Ed Begley Jr. in the film) appears briefly in a cameo role. (He's the man Howard Stringer mistakes for Perth in the CAA lobby). Actor Ed Begley Jr. and Rod Perth share an extraordinary physical resemblance, something the film makers milk for humor in the scene.


The film received seven Emmy Award nominations in categories including "Outstanding Made for Television Movie," makeup, casting, writing, directing, and acting. For her role in the film as Helen Kushnick, actress Kathy Bates won awards from the American Comedy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the Satellite Awards, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The film was also recognized with an award for "Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials" from the Directors Guild of America Awards. David Letterman, who saw clips of the film, called the movie "the biggest waste of film since my wedding photos." He also likened John Michael Higgins' portrayal to that of a "psychotic chimp." Letterman invited Higgins onto his program, but Higgins declined.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee Result
1996 Artios Award Best Casting for TV Movie of the Week Nancy Foy Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Individual Achievement in Casting for a Miniseries or a Special Nancy Foy, Phyllis Huffman Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Miniseries or a Special Betty Thomas Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Miniseries or a Special June Westmore, Monty Westmore, Sharin Helgestad, Del Acevedo, Matthew W. Mungle Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Miniseries or a Special Bill Carter, George Armitage Nominated
Outstanding Made for Television Movie Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck, Daniel Goldberg, Don Carmody Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special Treat Williams Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special Kathy Bates Nominated
1997 American Comedy Award Funniest Female Performer in a TV Special (Leading or Supporting) Network, Cable or Syndication Kathy Bates Won
DGA Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials Betty Thomas, Jake Jacobson, Richard Graves, Robert Lorenz Won
Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV Kathy Bates Won
Satellite Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Kathy Bates Won
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television Treat Williams Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries Kathy Bates Won


Kushnick filed a $30 million lawsuit against Bill Carter, author of the eponymous book upon which the HBO film was based, claiming libel. Specifically, her case related to a claim that she planted a story about Carson's retirement in the New York Post. The then-pending lawsuit was noted in the film's epilogue, as the Broadway tune "There's No Business Like Show Business" plays. The lawsuit settled out of court for an undisclosed sum; Kushnick died of cancer in August 1996.


On January 19, 2010, during Conan O'Brien's final week as host of "The Tonight Show," guest Quentin Tarantino jokingly suggested that he direct a sequel to The Late Shift, cast O'Brien as himself and make it a revenge movie in the style of his film Kill Bill with the title Late Shift 2: The Rolling Thunder of Revenge. The Toronto Star reported in February 2010 that a sequel to The Late Shift film was in planning stages. In the final episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, O'Brien stated he wished that actress Tilda Swinton could portray him in a film version about The Tonight Show conflict. Swinton subsequently expressed interest in being cast as Conan O'Brien in a sequel to The Late Shift.

When asked in a June 2010 interview with Movieline if there was going to be a film adaptation of the book, Carter responded that plans were not serious at that point, stating, "Not really. Nothing serious. Let's put it this way: There have always been people kicking it around because they think it's funny. ... Letterman made a ... joke saying that Max von Sydow should play him. So, you know, people are just kicking it around like that." Actor Bob Balaban, who portrayed NBC executive Warren Littlefield in the film The Late Shift said he would like to portray Jeff Zucker, and stated actor Jason Alexander would also be a good choice to play Zucker. Andy Richter told Movieline that he would want Justin Bieber to portray him in a film adaptation of the book.

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "The_Late_Shift_%28film%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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