The War for Late Night

The War for Late Night

When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy

Book - 2010
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NY Times reporter Bill Carter offers a detailed behind-the-scenes account of the events of the unforgettable 2009/2010 late-night season as all of its players--performers, producers, agents, and network executives--maneuvered to find footing amid the shifting tectonic plates of television culture.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2010.
ISBN: 9780670022083
Branch Call Number: 791.456/CARTER
Characteristics: 405 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.


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Oct 27, 2016

I remember when this happened. I sincerely felt Conan was wronged and I still believe it to this day. However, after hearing all sides of what went down, courtesy of respected TV journalist and author Bill Carter, I can see now why those involved acted the way they did.

On one side, you have Conan O'Brien. Back in the early 2000s, Conan passed on an offer to move to Fox, and with it a HUGE pay increase—something like 7x his current salary—because NBC reassured him The Tonight Show was his once Jay Leno stepped down. Essentially, the show was contractually promised to Conan. Then there's Jay, the workaholic ratings king, whom NBC asked to step aside in 2009 to make way for Conan. His response was, "... okay." Except, what he was actually thinking was, "Why is this okay? I'm number one on late night. Why is NBC asking me to leave when I still have so many good years ahead of me?" And then there's NBC, headed by Jeff Zucker, trying to avoid the mess from the last Tonight Show hand-off back in 1993. NBC loves Jay, but didn't want to lose Conan. So they brokered a deal in order to keep both stars. Egos clashed and drama ensued. Admittedly, it wasn't as bad as '93, but it still wasn't pretty.

I want to note one especially good moment: It's from the chapter titled "We're the Network" and it's Lorne Michaels, the creator and decades-long producer of Saturday Night Live, recounting a conversation with his NBC boss from the late 1970s which impressed upon him how valuable he was (and would be) to SNL's continuing success should he decide to leave to show and how NBC as an entity, aka "The Network," was indifferent to whatever he decided. The lesson: Sometimes you're given something special, something only you can grow into something better. Take it or leave it. Few if any other people would be able to do the same.

Feb 25, 2016

Good insight into the whole scene which is what I was looking for. Neither point of view seemed unbelievably over exaggerated. Chapters were very long and I never seemed to want to read more than one at a time.

The timelines could have maybe been done better. But sometimes the author went so back into the past to get to the present so many times I lost track of what I was supposed to be focusing on.

May 02, 2014

This book focuses on the Tonight Show situation where Jay Leno left, then returned. However, given the landscape of late night is poised to change once more with the retirement of Letterman, the change in venue for Fallon and Colbert and the recent announcement of retirement by Ferguson, this book is still relevant. Many of the players that were active when replacements were being sought in the 2009 shift are once again in the forefront of discussions these days. This is an interesting, candid look at what happens "behind closed doors" in the world of late night.


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