Rod Hilton's Reviews > The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy

The War for Late Night by Bill  Carter
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's review
Feb 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks, movie-and-tv
Read from February 20 to March 08, 2012

The War For Late Night chronicles every decision, event, and backroom conversation that led to the now infamous Conan/NBC/Leno split over the Tonight Show. When I say "every" I truly mean it - every player is discussed at great length, including people who are only partially related to the event, such as Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and, stunningly, Craig Kilborn. Strangely, Carson was largely left out of the discussion.

The book contains a lot of information about what happened behind the scenes between these players, and it presents things in a very reasonable, and unbiased way. I'm a longtime Conan fan, and I came away from the entire affair as it played out on television and the internet with the sense that NBC and Leno screwed Conan. The more I learned about what happened, the more I blamed Conan for his inflexibility, and the less I blamed Leno. Leno is presented in a fair, balanced way, just as Conan and everyone else. Even Jeff Zucker is given a fair treatment by the book.

In the end, with all of the information in hand, I still place most of the blame for what happened on Leno, because it's ultimately his refusal to retire as he said that forced NBC to place him somewhere on the network to prevent him from going to ABC, and ultimately his failure at 10:00 (which you can't blame him for, really) that led to the decision to push the Tonight Show into tomorrow. Conan definitely got screwed in the whole deal - constantly passing up better offers to get a show that he never really got. At the same time, Conan never really fit at 11:30, his humor totally wrong for that timeslot, and the book touches on that as well.

Overall, it's an interesting book about an aspect of the entertainment industry that most regular people have no access to. Every character is presented fairly, and I think it would make a great inspiration for a Late Shift 2, a sequel to the made-for-tv movie about the Jay/Letterman split (based on a book by this same author). If you like reading about the entertainment industry, it's a good read, and if you have a particular "favorite" in this war, the book may really open your eyes about that person, as well as others.

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