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The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy Hardcover – Bargain Price, November 4, 2010


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About the Author

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, The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, and many other shows.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (November 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067002208X
  • ASIN: B004Y6MTUU
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,421,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Michael A. Weyer on November 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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.
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Will Klinger on November 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on December 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
For a few weeks in January 2010, the nation held its collective breath as the story played out nightly on our television screens. A terrorist attack? A new economic crisis? No, the drama of that moment was the battle over the fate of Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and the venerable institution known as "The Tonight Show." Fifteen years after THE LATE SHIFT, his chronicle of the bloody cage match between Leno and David Letterman to succeed Johnny Carson, New York Times reporter Bill Carter returns with this workmanlike insider's story of the debacle that marked NBC's feckless attempt to make the transition to the franchise's next generation.

In March 2004, Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal, hatched what seemed at the time to be a perfectly sensible plan to "Keep the consistently winning Jay as long as possible while also preventing Conan from taking his increasingly impressive talent elsewhere" (FOX being the most likely destination). In five years, Leno would step aside, to be replaced by O'Brien, the host since 1993 of the initially shaky but now solidly popular (especially among the coveted 18-49 demographic) "Late Night." O'Brien had dreamed of assuming Carson's mantle since he'd watched "The Tonight Show" with his father in the living room of their Brookline, Massachusetts home. "That shared memory had a powerful pull on Conan," Carter writes.

But despite half a decade to secure a small number of puzzle pieces in place, the best Zucker and Jeff Gaspin, the head of NBC Entertainment, could do by the time Leno's 17-year run ended on May 29, 2009, after 3,775 shows, was to hand him the 10:00 time slot each weekday night after every other option, including cable, specials and an 8:00 spot, was explored and rejected.
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