Film Reviews

The Late Shift: True Story Tale Of The 90’s Tonight/Late Night Shows

Actors in front of Carson curtains

After Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show, there was a lot of behind the scenes arguments of who will take over his spot. The film starts off a year before his retirement with Jay Leno with his agent and David Letterman with his management inquiring about the possible open slot.

This was when CBS just cancelled their previous late night show with Pat Sajak, the host of Wheel of Fortune, and late night movies. This film is half the problematic first arrangement of Jay Leno taking over the Tonight Show with a shark agent and the beginning of the Late Night Show, seemingly a spin of their filler title from their late night movie slot. The film is about talent team against talent team while in negotiations with NBC.

The fight builds up with cancelling shows, bullying other executives and guest stealing with Jay Leno’s executive producer. NBC pretty much, by the perspective of this film, muscled her out. And with Letterman the agents they do harsh negotiations to sign with CBS for his new show that would air the same time NBC would air their show. When I watch this film both comedians don’t know each other through a bunch of other people therefore they rarely talk to each other.

This film portrays that NBC executives were the ones who knew that both comedians wanted the time slot of the Tonight Show but were looking for loyalty and competence to run the show. It was a costly show with A-list celebrities constantly being interviewed in front of a live audience. The executives at NBC offer Letterman a wishy-washy deal for the Tonight Show but turned it down after one of his advisors told him it wasn’t the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson he was taking but a new show that Jay Leno started that the executives weren’t happy with. The secondary advice to turn down the offer from Johnny Carson was almost like he called his uncle for advice, which was nice.

If you’re a child from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s or clips from the internet of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The mystique of the tonight show didn’t come overnight, like one night, but a lot of time hard work and killer writing and moments. I still like the quote from George Gobel being “Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a black tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?” It was a very beloved show to most people especially to people were most likely to see the first airing of the show. These were two comedians fawning over a show they most likely grew up with.

Screenshot of “Johnny Carson” talking about the future of “The Tonight Show” at NBC Fall Lineup Announcement Presentation

The actors committing to their characters with the voice, mannerisms and motivations they believe the real comedians were going through made this movie enjoyable and a parody.

Screenshot of “Jay Leno” talking to the executives of NBC

Jay Leno seems like he was both over his abilities by being inexperienced and trying to latch onto a dream job. The actor had bonded makeup to his chin and a wig that made him look even more like the real Jay Leno.

Screenshot of “David Letterman” talking to executives at CBS and his agents

The actor who played David Letterman was even more detailed in the portrayal. The giggles, the cigar prop, the tone of voice and way how he interacted with the other people in the room/scene felt very much like how I would imagine the real David Letterman would act. The curly orange wig, big glasses and the gap in the front teeth made the actor like a dead-ringer for Letterman. But his sense of goofiness and moving on to a larger project midway through the film made me feel that he was already over not getting the slot. Therefore, there was little tension there.

Kathy Bates is a shark and looks like was just over her head as Jay but angrier than the other mellow and smooth executives. She fought just as hard as the other producers but played games which was problematic to the other producers who had to work with her.

This film was produced by HBO and was based on the book The Late Shift. I never read the book but the film looks accurate on what it’s based on.

The only special effects in the film are on the bottom left of the screen detailing the name and job position of the person briefly on screen in 90’s bold Times New Roman in white. It was very helpful to know who they were talking to because the film doesn’t introduce a lot of the executive producers going by. This especially important in the Letterman and associates talking to channel presidents and CEOs for ABC, FOX, CBS and USA.

Screenshot of “Robert Wright” in a meeting

This film is entertaining but very nostalgic for the early ’90s because it told the story of the legacy Johnny Carson left behind and the beginning of the Late Show. It’s an interesting find.

Genre: Comedy
Year: 1995
Duration: 92 minutes

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Two out of five stars

All screenshots are from the film
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