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Bill Carter joined The New York Times as a national media reporter in 1989. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Late Shift, two other books on the television industry, Monday Night Mayhem and Desperate Networks, and has written numerous articles for The New York Times Magazine and other publications. He has been a guest on Nightline, Today, CNN, Charlie Rose, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, and many other shows. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he lives in New Jersey with his wife. They have two children.
When the Lay Leno/Conan O'Brian "Tonight Show" debacle began, everyone knew there was only one person who could tell the true story: Bill Carter. 15 years after his excellent "The Late Shift," Carter finally gives us the follow-up and it's just as wonderfully detailed and excellent as the first book was.
Carter's writing is amazing as he makes you feel like a fly on the wall for the various meetings. He doesn't make judgements but gives us a balanced tale of the various players with full bios on Conan, Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and more. This allows you to get behind the people who are fleshed out wonderfully.
With Conan, Carter shows that his big problem was being too nice a guy and niave to the network politics. It's astonishing to discover that his people never secured a deal to make sure "The Tonight Show" always followed the evening news, which gave NBC some ammuntion. Another telling remark is on how Conan didn't do as much audience interaction as Leno or Letterman and considered himself a writer, not a performer, which cost him down the line. While Conan is shown as a sympathetic figure, he's not given a free ride by the author.
Leno, meanwhile, doesn't come off as some evil schemer but a nice guy in a hard situation. Carter paints the picture that Leno's decisions are due to his thinking in a time warp, still under the impression that "Tonight Show" is the only late night program people care about. As far as Jay's concerned, HE was the one who had "The Tonight Show" taken from him and he sees nothing wrong with taking it back.
While the focus is on those two, David Letterman gets a lot of attention as well.Read more ›
This is one of the most purely interesting books I've read in a very long time. As someone who is fascinated by the entertainment industry, and television in particular, this is about as good as it gets. Bill Carter is a fantastic writer, and he manages to make the events surrounding the Jay-Conan fiasco accessible and exciting without being overly dramatic. It is a solid piece of entertainment journalism, and is seems to be very fair and even-handed. There does seem to be a slight pro-Conan tone throughout, but this could be because many pages are spent on Conan's background and history. This part really drew me in as a reader and I more readily sympathized with Conan because of all the personal details provided. However, I never got the impression that Carter was telling only one side of the story. All three sides (Conan, Jay, and NBC) are all given fair treatment, and Carter's assessment of the actions of each is masterfully related to one another to provide a fuller picture of what transpired. At different points in the book, I got a strong sense of what it must have felt like for each party.
The writing style and flow of the story is excellent. The author does assume the reader has some basic knowledge of how the television industry works, but still provides concise and helpful explanations when needed. The access given to the author is amazing. Bob Woodward-type access. It seems that literally everyone involved talked to Bill Carter, and quite candidly at that. Granted, all sides surely gave their version of events, but thoughts and feelings are always clearly attributed to the different players.
The section about Conan's early years leading up to landing the Late Show in 1993 was very enlightening.Read more ›
Bill Carter's The War for Late Night is a chronicle about the NBC late night television shows debacle, describing how in 2009 Conan O'Brien seemingly permanently replaced Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, only to have Leno usurp and depose Conan mere months later. I had heard from several discussions by sometime entertainment genius, sometime juvenile egotist Howard Stern on his Sirius/XM radio show, including an interview recently of Conan's sidekick Andy Richter, who was a major source for Carter, that this book was a fascinating read. Since I was not particularly watching much, if any, late night television nor reading about it during the 2009-2010 timeframe, I figured that I would be able to catch up on what really happened here and discover just how dastardly Leno was. Well, I got a pretty good idea of what went on, but ultimately felt that Carter spent much more time telling this tale than was necessary and in the end, I did not feel that he answered enough questions, instead focusing on not alienating anyone in the television industry.
**** SPOILER ALERT ****
In a nutshell, Conan O'Brien, host of NBC's Late Night following Leno's the Tonight Show, was the hottest commodity on late night television during the early ought's, especially among the crucial younger adult viewing segment most prized by advertisers - he was being courted by rival networks ABC and Fox and was being offered roughly 7x his $3 million salary if he left NBC and took his show to another network. Conan told NBC CEO Jeff Zucker he would only re-sign with NBC if he had a contract to take over the Tonight Show from Leno within a relatively finite period of time; Conan revered Johnny Carson and was infatuated with the Tonight Show.Read more ›