• The War for Late Night

  • When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy
  • By: Bill Carter
  • Narrated by: Sean Kenin
  • Length: 15 hrs and 2 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (863 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A dramatic account of the politics and personalities behind NBC's calamitous attempt to reinvent late-night television.

When NBC decided to move Jay Leno into prime time to make room for Conan O'Brien to host the Tonight show - a job he had been promised five years earlier - skeptics anticipated a train wreck for the ages. It took, in fact, only a few months for the dire predictions to come true. Leno's show, panned by critics, dragged down the ratings - and the profits - of NBC's affiliates, while ratings for Conan's new Tonight show plummeted to the lowest levels in history. Conan's collapse, meanwhile, opened an unexpected door of opportunity for rival David Letterman. What followed was a boisterous, angry, frequently hilarious public battle that had millions of astonished viewers glued to their sets. In The War for Late Night, New York Times reporter Bill Carter offers a detailed behind-the-scenes account of the events of the unforgettable 2009/2010 late-night season as all of its players- performers, producers, agents, and network executives-maneuvered to find footing amid the shifting tectonic plates of television culture.

©2010 Bill Carter (P)2010 Penguin Audio

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great Story

This is the story of NBC's attempt to move Jay Leno into prime time and Conan O'Brien into the "Tonight Show" and what a story it is! Bill Carter has produced a page turner infused with insight into the personalities involved, the issues driving the process, and the decline of a major network. The book is really dazzling when Carter reports Leno's crash and burn first in a media stand-up routine and then in the ratings for his new program. Leno comes across as a well meaning individual given the blame for O'Brien's demise. Some may well come away with the impression that Conan O'Brien was shorted and I tend to agree. Actually, O'Brien just might have been the wrong comic at work in the wrong place at the wrong time. Ultimately, this is a very informative book. The writing is Bill Carter which is just electric at times and the reading is exceptional. It is an eye opener on a number of levels.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Very entertaining book, excellently narrated

I heard the author on Sound of Young America talking about the book and was interested, but listening to this book far more entertaining than I ever imagined. I rarely watch late night TV, but getting this inside view of how the different characters interact and the demands of the business was very interesting. The author had so much inside information, I would have believed this was a novel. The story he weaved together was very compelling and hard to put down.

The book is excellently narrated. The fact that there are parts of comedy routines in the book made for some good chuckles, but the narrator did such a great job (not trying to do impressions, but just giving a subtle indication who is speaking) that the book is even better as a result.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

So Cool It's Hot!

They say TV is a cool media. Bill Carter's astonishing research and powerful story telling talent have created a book to rival or maybe exceed Walter Isaacson's almost legendary bio on Steve Jobs! This is a dazzling tale of perhaps the end of a great era in broadcasting... late night network television broadcasting. If you thought you knew the ending of the Letterman/Leno/Conan/Kimmel/Stewart/Colbert/Chandler/Ferguson/Fallon duke-'em-out-after-11 PM saga... Well, you don't. Or at least you didn't know how all of their parts fit together through the inexorable pressures to deliver what business competitors need to survive.

What's wonderful about Carter's talent is that every single character in this masterpiece is sympathetic. There are no villains of the piece... unless it's scarcity. The fact is that there is only one "Tonight" show slot. Only really room for three major contenders for a viable audience slice immediately after 11. And many more talented/balanced/nuanced human beings to manage and to fill the hole. Carter makes it clear that scarcity demands that choices be made. And the UN-chosen will always be disappointed along with his/her fans.

This is a story of achievement and disappointment. that really ought to be read as an allegory for things well beyond TV, entertainment, the inter-generational clash of cultures, and Late Night. The message and the vehicle are huge.Bill Carter turns the cool medium's competition over a tiny portal to millions of homes into a hot message.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Riveting if you’re a tv freak

I read some reviews where people said “oh this is really just inside stuff and if you’re not really that into TV you won’t be able to follow.” Well duh, why are you reading it then, or listening to it? If you are into TV, this, the second of Bill Carter’s late night books, is absolutely riveting. I liked it even more than his first one, which dealt with Leno versus Letterman. This one (Leno vs Conan) had way more twists and turns, and frankly it read like a spy novel. Even though I lived through this era, I don’t remember what happened, so I had to keep myself from googling what actually did happen. Although I did pull up clips that were mentioned in the book. Carter’s breadth of research is just astounding, I have no idea how he got as much insider info as he actually did. And the narrator is crisp and clear and highly appropriate for this kind of work. Again, if you are into TV and all of the interesting machinations surrounding it behind the scenes, this is the book for you

1 person found this helpful

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could have been shorter

it was interesting but with better editing the same story could be told and it would be half as long. Also I felt like it did not quite finish the story. You are told it ends and people go their separate ways but not what happens to those people. there are some things discussed that I thought were there to tie up the end and then were left forgotten.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent

Never knew the whole story of the late night debacle of NBC, this is an excellent road map to what made headlines and kept me watching as it unfolds. I loved this story and the narration

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great Behind The Scenes

The behind the scenes of late night has always been more interesting then the actual shows themselves.
Lets face it, these guys tell the same canned jokes 5 days a week for 30 years and get paid more in a month then many of us will make in our entire lives. There is nothing wrong with that, creating comedy is difficuly on a daily basis but the egos of these guys is pretty rich. It is hard to believe they think of themselves as 'Comic Geniuses' and revolutionaries in the art of having a monkey sit on their heads.
Although personally I prefer the comedy of Conan, having heard the behind the scenes story I am actually now more sympathetic to Leno... who at least knows its a business and treats it as such.

2 people found this helpful

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A Great Follow Up

Though not a sequel to The Late Shift, this definitely has the feel of a spiritual successor. I was impressed with how in depth the book got with so many different late night hosts without ever feeling like it was over doing it. I was somewhat familiar with the drama that unfolded around the transition from Leno to Conan but appreciated the unbiased view of the events that the author took and the many interesting facts that were provided. At this point I only hope that there's enough material in the future to warrant a third book from Carter.

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Very interesting

I enjoyed it. I'm a big team Coco fan so this book did bring back memories.

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Compelling peek behind the curtain of Late Night

Greatly enjoyed this! Well read, and interesting tid bits that kept me coming back for more. Highly recommend.