Steve’s Media Blog

The Late Shift Part 2?

Posted on: December 11, 2008

Image from The Capri Lounge

Recently, I read the book The Late Shift by Bill Carter.  This is the book that chronicles the shift from Johnny Carson to Jay Leno (over David Letterman).  This is the book that was also turned into a poorly-casted made-for-TV movie (that I really want to watch now).

I wanted to make a point to start watching the late night talk shows again – even if it meant recording them the night before and watching the next day.  I gained a renewed interest in them, and probably a new-found appreciation for them that I never had when I was a kid watching them with my older brother when all that drama was going on.  Man do I wish I either A) watched the shows the book talked about or B) had them on tape.

I never got around to following the late night shows, which is a shame, because we will soon be seeing another shift – Conan O’Brien is set to take over the Tonight Show, while reliable ol’ Jay Leno gets his own weeknight 10pm show.  All this news kind of baffles me, to be honest.

First of all, after reading the book, I’m surprised that it was announced so early on that Conan was replacing Leno.  There were so many backroom deals in place back when Carson retired, that it just doesn’t seem to make sense.  There are mentions that they came up with some kind of deal to keep Leno off ABC, but I can’t find any solid info to back that up. 

Second of all, this is pretty much what NBC offerred Letterman in a half-assed attempt to get him to stay.   For Letterman it was the Tonight Show or bust, so he went to CBS.  The thought was that the 10pm hour just really outright sucks because of deals with affiliates and so forth.  For NBC it makes sense – they save a boatload of money not having to air an hour-long drama.  For Leno, I guess he doesn’t care about competing against Letterman/O’Brien.

Third, how the hell can the Conan camp be happy about this?  The idea of moving to 11:35 for the Tonight Show is that they’re the big fish, they’re done following up on Leno.  But now that’s not the case at all – they’ve still got to follow Leno.  Granted, Leno’s new show is most likely going to be a Tonight Show Lite and will be terrible, but as far as the ego goes, this has got to be a big hit.

I honestly hope that Bill Carter does a follow-up to the Late Shift and talks about the backroom stuff for this latest shift, because I really want to know now.  I am missing out on a lot of information, and I have the feeling it won’t be easily found in media archives.

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