Late Shift [1996]

Loyalties ran deep. People were polarized. And, for a while, folks followed it in the news with bated breath. No, it wasn't an election year; it was the battle for late-night television, bitterly fought by Jay Leno and David Letterman. Even before Johnny Carson retired, Letterman and Leno were jockeying for The Tonight Show. Letterman had a proven record, but at a later time slot, with an edgier crowd. Leno had the guest-host position and the support of the network. HBO dramatizes the struggle for the 11 p.m. slot in The Late Shift, a made-for-cable movie that reveals the seedier side of talk television. Kathy Bates gives a hysterical--both in the funny and the manic sense--performance as Leno's manager. John Michael Higgens is a convincing Letterman and Daniel Roebuck (with mounds of latex on his chin) gets the Leno voice right. And while the studio execs and agents (played humorously by Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Treat Williams, among others) appear as sharks, both Leno and Letterman come off sympathetically. Even though the outcome is well known, The Late Shift is an entertaining look at the craziness that is late-night TV. --Jenny Brown

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