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The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy Hardcover – 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, 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.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's difficult to take anything at face value in politics. business or entertainment. BS is a major staple of these professions. All too often, the players involved portray to the public that such dramas are minor disagreements, while behind the scenes, the proverbial poop is hitting a warehouse of fans. The executives' primary responsibility is to make a profit. The producers' and entertainers' objective is to make entertaining and popular shows. The joining of these two parties is always ripe for conflict. Mr. Leno, Mr. Letterman, and anyone a party to the 1992 "Tonight Show" debacle certainly had no desire to have a repeat performance in 2010. And yet, they did. Mr. Carter takes time to give brief biographies of the main characters such as Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno, CEO Jeff Zucker, David Letterman and other power brokers as well as rising talents Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert.
Mr. Carter explains how the ground beneath late-night entertainment has dramatically shifted since the days when either Johnny Carson was king or when Leno and Letterman were the only competitors on tv. I don't watch late-night television with the exception of a Internet clip here or there. Yet, the author's very fair, entertaining, and highly informative book kept me glued to my seat. The book's a keeper.
Carter really doesn't come down in favor of either Leno or O'Brien. (He can't, really, if he hopes to secure interviews and comments from both.) But he does present both sides of the argument. The reader may get the sense, however, that Leno is a bit of a cold fish. Not diabolical, certainly, but unmoved by emotions and a creature of habit. While this doesn't necessarily make him an antagonist, it may tip the scales of opinion in Conan's favor.
As is to be expected in a piece about funnymen, there are plenty of jokes cited in these pages, many of which will bring a laugh to the reader. It's a serious work, but it has plenty of light moments.
I'd be interested to get Carter's take on what's happened since this book was written: Zucker at CNN, Leno out from the Tonight Show (again), Fallon on Tonight, Letterman leaving to be replaced by Colbert, and Meyers on Late Night. The late night landscape today, it seems, is in a near constant state of shift.
Even though the previous (1992) late night debacle was before my time, based on the strength of this work I may also check out Carter's earlier work, Late Shift.
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. Most of the information was new to me, and I have been following Conan for years.
The final few chapters, after the dust had settled, were especially readable and emotional. Carter clearly understood both sides of the story: on the one hand, some people become attached to television shows and talent on an emotional level. To others, it's all business and being a host is nothing more than a job. He cleverly steers clear of making any strong judgments in this respect, instead letting the story (and it's players) speak for itself. The epilogue, however, did give me the impression that that take-away message of this book is that late night television, at the end of the day, is a business. That may be true, but for the viewers, it's much more than that.