The Late Shift

tn_lateshiftTHE LATE SHIFT was the HBO movie based on the book based on the time when Jay Leno and David Letterman were fighting over taking over The Tonight Show. It seeks to put you backstage and in the board rooms and Emmy parties to see with your own simulated eyes what happened. But at the same time it can’t help but distance you because that’s not Leno or Letterman, in my opinion it’s actually a couple of actors doing impressions. They also have legendary unfunny impressionist Rich Little playing Johnny Carson. He does a good impression but looks nothing like him, so in his scenes you just have to look away from the screen and then it seems like it’s Johnny.

The guy that plays Leno is Daniel Roebuck, who also plays talk show host Morris Green in the Rob Zombie pictures. And he was in BUBBA HO-TEP. Letterman is played by John Michael Higgins (BLADE: TRINITY). It’s also populated with character actors like Bob Balaban and Ed Begley Jr. playing executives whose names you used to hear all the time in the ’80s and ’90s but never really paid attention to who they were. Treat Williams plays Letterman’s super agent Michael Ovitz, so it’s the guy from the SUBSTITUTE sequels playing the guy who got Seagal into movies. The director is Betty Thomas, a fairly respected filmatist at the time because THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE and then PRIVATE PARTS were better than anybody expected. But I just looked it up and it turns out her most recent directorial work is ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS THE SQUEAKQUEL, so I guess that’s how that story ended.

mp_lateshiftI know many of you aren’t in the U.S., so you’ve never seen these shows anyway. To help you out, The Tonight Show is the grandfather of all American late night talk shows, having started with Steve Allen in ’54 (then hosted by Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien for 7 months, and Leno again from Monday until he snaps). Letterman is another talk show host who had a show that aired after Johnny Carson for 10 years but when Carson retired and they chose Leno to replace him he got mad and moved to CBS where he is now the direct competition of The Tonight Show.

You know, let me try this a different way. Letterman is the guy who tries to sell a monkey to Chris Elliot in CABIN BOY. Leno did the buddy movie COLLISION COURSE with Pat Morita, and showed off his cars to Eric Bana in LOVE THE BEAST. For Americans, though, they’re constant TV fixtures, so to see someone playing them can be pretty silly, like a Saturday Night Live skit. Saturday Night Live is an American TV show also. You know the movie IT’S PAT, that came from Saturday Night Live. Make sense? Okay, I think we’re all on the same page here.

Accepting an actor imitating a familiar real life person is always a challenge for any celebrity bio. For my brain anyway it’s a bigger hurdle than the usual suspension-of-disbelief. It’s weird to see a guy who was in VAMPIRE’S KISS wearing a baseball hat, chewing a cigar, having a dramatic discussion with his agent on a beach and continually launching into familiar Letterman shtick. But as the viewer it is our responsibility to just try to go with it, otherwise the movie is fucked. In this one it took a bit, but I was ultimately able to project my consciousness into an alternate reality where this guy with the fake chin and cartoonishly high voice is the real Leno.

The Leno of the movie is a nice guy, but still kind of a weasel. He has a Ronald Reagan (Ronald Reagan was a president we had in the United States from 1980-1988) plausible deniability approach – his manager breaks the fingers and he doesn’t have to know about it. So from the movie’s POV it’s all Kathy Bates’s fault. She’s the bitch who played dirty to get him to the top, even creating press leaks designed to pressure Carson to retire. Can you believe that shit? In the movie Leno is pissed that she lied to him about it, and in reality she sued the publisher of the book for that claim and they settled out of court. But just the idea of it, man. You always remember Carson retiring as being this sad goodbye to a guy that wanted to hang it up and settle down, so to think that actually he was pushed into that position by some horrible person trying to get a good gig for her client… that’s fucking awful.

Also she got M.A.S.H. cancelled. And she killed Bambi’s mom.

I mean, as portrayed in the movie this bitch is a supervillain. As producer of the Tonight Show she throws a fit because Ronald Reagan’s (see, it was important that I explain who that was earlier, it came up again) speech at the GOP convention goes long and delays their broadcast. She calls up NBC News yelling and swearing at them to cut him off. She’s so horrible I think even Jello Biafra would’ve been like, “Hey, lay off the old man.”

All of this seems pretty dated, more of a re-enactment of Variety headlines than an insightful exposee. But of course it takes on new relevance in light of recent events. (Note to readers of the future: Conan O’Brien was recently pushed out after 7 months of hosting The Tonight Show and Jay Leno returned even though he had pretended to willingly pass the torch. By the way do you guys have sex robots yet?) The Leno of this movie seems like you would imagine the Leno that would say yes to that deal. He wants everyone to like him and he’s not malicious, but when it comes down to it he’ll gladly reap rewards he didn’t earn. As long as he didn’t get his hands bloody he’ll chew the meat. You can tell that in his head he’s trying to justify it to himself. The putting-your-hands-over-your-ears-and-singing-Mary-Had-A-Little-Lamb ethical defense. His whole approach here is to grimace at the ugliness but then sit there and not say anything against it. Then maybe he’ll luck out and nobody will blame him.

Even giving up on his manager when he does is mighty convenient. Sure, he stands up to her – when it’s best for his career. Before he just cringed and looked embarrassed, only now that it’s the easier choice does he disavow her.

Not that Letterman’s exactly a samurai here either. He’s angry at NBC because they know he wants the job and he’s been loyal to them for 10 years, and they give it to the guest host. Letterman’s like a long time worker passed over for a promotion that went to an outside hire. It makes sense for him to be mad. But when Leno already has the show and Dave’s got a better deal set up at CBS he still wants to accept an offer to take over The Tonight Show. Nobody thinks he should do it, and one person mentions that it would be screwing over Leno. But the decision doesn’t come down to ethics, just that CBS offers more money and security.

It’s funny, watching this now makes Leno seem nicer than I think of him as, but it really reminds you how hypocritical he is in this Conan deal. At the time of that fight he was getting weak ratings and was struggling to come out from under Carson’s shadow. His producer claims he represents a new, younger audience. Now it’s Leno replacing the guy who didn’t get a chance, and he’s also the old guy who supposedly got pushed out. But he doesn’t mind. He’ll go along with that. I guess he thinks he’s Johnny.

All this seems to have reignited the Letterman/Leno feud a little bit, judging by the guests lined up for Letterman this week. Monday begins Leno’s Bush v. Gore style return to The Tonight Show, but be sure not to watch because 1. if anything funny happens it’ll be online 2. Letterman has Bill Murray on, always a funny guest. For Tuesday Leno has Sarah Palin, so Letterman got Mitt Romney (you can’t tell me that wasn’t a calculated move to take a few Republican ratings away from Leno). For the rest of the week he’s got Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Hanks and Matt Damon (going head-to-head with Morgan Freeman on Leno – INVICTUS fans will have to choose a side).

So it’s funny, because the “Late Night Wars” shown in this made-for-cable movie seem like so long ago, but the effects still linger, like Agent Orange or PTSD. Whatever you do don’t draw first blood on these guys.


This entry was posted on Sunday, February 28th, 2010 at 9:46 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

53 Responses to “The Late Shift”

  1. Well, I’m with CoCo.

    Somebody was going to say it anyway, so why not me?

  2. “Don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos,” would also have been acceptable, I suppose.

  3. I can’t wait for The Late Shift Too: The Later Shift.

  4. Daniel Roebuck as Jay Leno? i gotta admit, that’s a good idea!

  5. Snow – with Conan played by Tilda Swinton. I think she even said she wanted to play him. :)

    Vern – I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Letterman-Conan connection. When Conan began in ’93 (and fucking sucked, sorry its true), Letterman really reached out a helping hand to the guy. When Conan couldn’t get people to attend his (free) tapings, Letterman shipped his audiences over to put butts in the seats. He had Conan come to Letterman’s program, and then bit his tongue with NBC and appeared on Conan’s struggling show more than once. Notice Conan at 12:30 kept a picture of Letterman with the other Tonight Show hosts.

    Which probably explains why Letterman was ANGRY when Conan got screwed. Even if he was rivals with Conan at 11:30, it was a respectful professional relationship. Kinda like how apparently Carson saw Letterman as his comedic heir apparent, well Letterman passed the torch down to Conan.

    Three things from LATE SHIFT I remember. (1) Treat Williams playing a good tough as nails Michael Orvitz. Vern I’m surprised you didn’t mention that, since it was Orvitz who helped make Steven Seagal the movie star happen.

    (2) Leno coming off as a likeable guy, but fucking gutless when it came down to it. (3) Unfortunately, Letterman fucked himself as much as Leno did to him because Letterman always assumed the job was his out of hard work and merit. I’m sure he gave Conan advice to lawyer up and contractually GUARANTEE the Tonight Show.

  6. i haven’t seen this movie, but i have always been fascinated by the events it details. i was actually pretty angry at the time when dave got passed over. one question, does it include the episode where jay leno is fucking hiding in a closet or the next room or something to eavesdrop on a meeting letterman had? i’ve heard of this episode before, and dave even brought it up on the air between segments recently during the whole conan brouhaha. something like, “hey paul, remember back when the whole thing with me and the tonight show was happening, remember one time i was having a meeting and the whole time big chin jay leno was hiding in the darn closet? wasn’t that just… nuts?” it was funny, you kinda have to hear dave say it.

  7. Virgin Gary – That meeting that Leno (allegedly) eavesdropped on was one for when NBC bigwigs were debating whether which one to back. Letterman wasn’t there.

  8. just some a-hole (har!)

    March 1st, 2010 at 2:16 am

    Let’s hope this review pounds home that last coffin nail on the stale topic of late-night wars (post-head shot please). How in the heck do so many people get riled up over which fourth rate stand up also-ran gets to conduct painfully vapid exchanges with this or that disgustingly rich celebrity marketing their product? (I know, I know; it just feels so good to get self-righteously platitudinous.) I think your number (1) in the second to last paragraph is a great piece of Kantian categorical imperative viz. it should apply to all late night programming at all times, and when and if online clips ever becomes definitively unavailable (you know what I’m saying?), well, you won’t miss it. I can think of five verbs off the top of my head and three objects and subjects one might relish engaging in between set times and none of them involve a combination of “watching” “Conan-Leno-Letterman-Etcetera.” And okay, you’ve convinced; Leno is a pestilence. But who’s the second most evil person on earth, the third? Any bile left for them?

  9. RRA: I’m getting forgetful. I always forget to mention things I meant to. The Ovitz one was important though, so I added that in. Thanks for the reminder.

    A-hole: Well, maybe this doesn’t exist as much anymore as internet and cable divide everything up more and more, but some people like to have a routine in their lives. You used to read the paper in the morning, maybe watch the news when you got home from work, then you watch the Tonight Show or Letterman or now the Daily Show. Or you listen to talk radio on the way to work or on the construction site or whatever. Late Night talk shows can and do have the weaknesses you state, they also can make you laugh and in a way sort of sum up the goings on in the world at that point in time. Until I get dementia or something I will always remember Letterman coming on after 9-11, but also Norm Macdonald interupting Conan and making him laugh so hard he had to abandon his skit and go to a commercial. And Bill Murray pretending he adopted pandas. And The Making of Chris Elliot. And Seagal saying that the government created AIDS on the Arsenio Hall Show.

    These shows can be a good part of our lives. So many people watch them and can remember these same moments that they can be a unifying force. But also it can be the reverse, if one of them skews to your sense of humor then maybe you identify with it more. Now days everybody has their FriendPalz pages and all this shit listing what they are a fan of and who they are a friend with. If somebody wants to be on “Team Coco” they are just putting a piece of themselves out there just like you are when you have to show that you are above talk shows and the discussion of them although not quite above them enough to mention earlier that you read the transcript of an interview with Jay Leno and watched his entire episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio.

    But to me it’s not even about that, it’s all symbolic of something greater and that’s why the topic is interesting and not stale. As you know if you read my reviews I am very interested in people who live by codes of honor. I think what Conan did (give up the most prestigious job in his profession rather than let it move to a timeslot that he thought would damage the show) was uncharacteristically honorable for somebody in his profession. It’s not what most Hollywood people would do, it’s what Billy Jack would do. And at the same time what Leno did (go along with the program even though it was screwing over his friend and even making himself look like a jackass by taking back what he very recently pretending to be classily giving up) was more sleazy than people are usually willing to do openly.

    So it’s not about corny Sarah Palin jokes and occasional interviews with Adam Sandler, it’s about right and wrong and human dignity and honor. And I want the honor to win this one, so yes, I’m interested in seeing what happens next.

  10. The Saturday Night Live phenomenon is interesting for a non-American. We don’t see the show but we know it exists because we are constantly told that comic actor X started out there. We are advised to check out youtubes to see comic actor X “back when they were still funny”

    It’s kind of bizarre seeing a comedy movie that obviously had a big budget starring someone you’ve never seen before in your life, who is utterly unfunny, yet projects a tangible aura of smugness like they are already huge and we should be rolling in the aisles at their every word.

    Yes that’s what a Will Ferrell / Mike Myers / Ben Stiller / Dana Carvey /whoever the fuck else movie looks like to a non-American…

    They actually show Letterman’s show here in New Zealand for some reason (it’s cheap probably) even though we can only understand about 70% of the references. I hadnt seen O’Brien’s show until the recent shitstorm and I have to say he definitely has the cooler house band.

  11. Andrew- Sorry but Ben Stiller gets a life time pass on everything for giving the world Tropic Thunder.

    Conan recently sent out a tweet that read, ” Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me.”

    I can’t wait to see the Nielson ratings to see how bad Leno tanks tonight. Although I will of course be watching The Daily Show and Colbert Report because ,quite frankly, those shows are on a whole different level of funny.

  12. Jareth Cutestory

    March 1st, 2010 at 7:54 am

    I think it’s easy to forget what a disruptive figure Letterman was when his show first aired, so much so that certain celebrities made a point of refusing to appear on his show. I’m not sure “anarchistic” is the right word, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he made the talk show format relevant for a whole generation of people who didn’t relate to Carson at all.

    It’s kind of sad that the Top Ten list is really the only thing that survived those early years.

  13. “legendary unfunny impressionist Rich Little”

    God’s truth Vern.

    God’s truth.

  14. Interesting blog, Vern. Jay Leno (part of Baby Boom Generation, born 1942-1953) vs. Conan O’Brien (part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965) reflects a broader battle happening throughout Western cultures: the emergence of Generation Jones leadership vs. Boomers clinging to power. GenJoneser Obama’s ascendance following 16 years of Boomer Presidencies is the most visible example, but we find it throughout the West, where more than two thirds of EU leaders are part of GenJones (following two decades of Boomer dominance).

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten lots of media attention, and many prominent commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report chose the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones: http://generationjones.com/2009latest.html

    It’s important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. And most analysts now see generations as getting shorter (usually 10-15 years now), partly because of the acceleration of culture. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    March 1st, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Cleopatra Jones had a generation named after her? Awesome.

  16. I always though this well as really well done movie. I remember the DVD or VHS box I saw showed a prominent picture of Kathy Bates (probably big at the time for Misery and Fried Green Tomatoes) with the tag line – She Steals His Show!!! I thought the performance of Letterman was outstanding and Balaban (who ended up playing a Littlefield clone on Seinfeld a few times) and Reni Santoni were good too. I remember thinking that Kathy bates character just couldn’t adapt to how big this thing was; you can’t scream at the head of NBC news like you could the manager of Yuk Yuks Comedy Club.

  17. Jareth Cutestory

    March 1st, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Michael: Bob Balaban has had an interesting career as actor, writer and director. He was really good in GOSFORD PARK, which he also co-wrote.

  18. Maybe its because I dont live in the US but I do not get the appeal of any of these shows. Celebrities talking about their basements flooding, taking their babies to the zoo and playing poker with George Clooney ? I am not interested.
    Maybe if they talked seriously about their work instead of using these rehearsed anecdotes I would pay attention. With Tivo, Hulu and other stuff, people have more viewing options late at night. Come on America, you can do better.

  19. My question still remains: How the fuck did Jimmy Fallon get the Roots to be his house band?

    I’m sure they’ll make a “Late Shift 2” (who “they” are I have no idea), but is there really a point now? When the original Dave/Jay stuff went down people outside the most devoted followers really didn’t find out how bad it was until the book and film came out a couple years later. The newest shit came out almost in real time. If Leno hid in a closet to spy on a meeting it would have been on Twitter in an hour. There isn’t really a reason to tell the story because everyone knows it already.

    At least this whole thing gave us Conan’s last week on The Tonight Show and Jimmy Kimmel DESTROYING Leno on his own sucky show, which was some of the best tv ever. The original just gave us an above average tv movie. So, win, I suppose…

  20. Jareth, I in no way wished to disparage the achievements of Bob Balaban, on The Simpsons when Hollywood actress Sara Sloane had sex with Flanders, she said it was so good it was helping her to forget Bob Balaban. That is one cool shoutout. I just thought it was interesting for an actor to play the same NBC executive in a movie and a series.

  21. Bob Balaban also directed PARENTS, which I will pimp yet again in hopes of getting a review.

  22. Jareth Cutestory

    March 1st, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Michael: I actually felt like a bit of a jerk after I wrote that earlier post about Balaban. Sorry for assuming that you didn’t know his long history.

    THE SIMPSONS did a long-overdue shout-out for Tress McNeill a while ago that I thought was a hoot.

  23. Wow, considering I know next to nothing about the topic of this biodoc or whatever they’re called nowadays, I have a lot of opinions.

    First of all: “(Ronald Reagan was a president we had in the United States from 1980-1988)”.

    Thanks for that, as a non-American reader I appreciate Vern making the effort to keep us informed about these small but important details.

    (Yeah, I’m being sarcastic, but in a funny-not-nasty way. Just in case that comes out wrong!)

    Now to Andrew:

    “Yes that’s what a Will Ferrell / Mike Myers / Ben Stiller / Dana Carvey /whoever the fuck else movie looks like to a non-American…”

    This non-American would take issue with parts of that statement.

    Mike Myers – Shrek! Also Austin Powers (I know they were really bad in many ways, but I still dug the first two. Hated the third one though.) Plus “So I married an axe murderer”, which is very underrated generally IMHO. I never saw “The Love Guru” but I’m guessing, from the reviews I’ve seen, that I probably wouldn’t like it. Still, nothing wrong with Myers.

    Will Ferrell – I saw my first Ferrell film, “Anchorman”, the other day. Laughed my head off.

    Ben Stiller – Now here’s somebody I think we can all agree should be banned from Hollywood. I liked “There’s Something about Mary” but hated him in it. And don’t even get me started on “Meet the Parents” (it’s a charmless vacuous mean-spirited reel of movie cliches and toilet jokes passing itself off as an intelligent comedy.) And that was actually supposed to be one of his “good” movies.

    Dana Carvey – wait, has he done anything on his own? Apart from “Master of Disguise”, which I get similar vibes to “the Love Guru” about (I haven’t seen it but then I don’t go out of my way to watch movies that everybody hates.)

    Finally, on the subject of real living people being played by actors: all I can say is that I found “W” unwatchable. Most of the actors looked about thirty years younger than the people they were supposed to be portraying. I’m not even an American so I don’t know the likes of Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice very well, but to me it was like watching some bizarre parody. It was ridiculous.

  24. What I find weird about SNL is it’s one of the few american sketch comedy shows that seems to exist. I know about that, and I know there was “MadTV”, but have no idead if it was any good or not, and that’s about it. The UK on the other hand has TONS of sketch shows, some good, some bad. Why’s it such a rarity in america?

  25. Stu – Wait DAILY SHOW doesn’t count as a sketch show? What about Conan or Letterman for that matter?

    Sure they’re “talk shows,” but most fans are there for the gags and sketches…not the guests.

    That said, you have a good point.

  26. Every few years a new sketch comedy troupe gets their shot, like THE STATE, KIDS IN THE HALL, IN LIVING COLOR, UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE, THE WHITEST KIDS YOU KNOW, etc. They’re just usually short-lived because they can’t survive when their casts go their separate ways, while SNL is an institution that’s constantly infusing itself with new blood.

  27. Mr. M – too bad SNL is shit these days without an election to piss at. Otherwise its almost like a parody of a parody show.

  28. RRA-I didn’t think of Daily Show or Colbert Report. Good point. Although, Daily Show doesn’t always have sketches. Sometimes it’s just Jon commenting amusingly on footage being played, then a guest. So I’d say it’s more a satirical comedy news program with a variety of other things. I’ve not seen Conan or Letterman, but I’m aware there’s comedic segments to it as well as the straight chat aspect. Chappelle’s Show was a sketch show too with some standup, and I like my sketch shows to not be constrained to studios and sets, like SNL mostly has to be because it’s Live.

  29. Jareth Cutestory

    March 1st, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Is ROBOT CHICKEN considered sketch comedy?

    There was also the great MR. SHOW. I’m not going to look it up because I don’t want to learn that it’s really old and the kids think I’m, like, a geezer for even mentioning it, dude.

  30. Mr. Majestyk – Even I know that Kids In The Hall are Canadian!

    I also know that their currently-screening Death Comes To Town miniseries is awesome…

  31. I would like to interrupt this discussion of the Late Shift to say that Craig Ferguson is the funniest late night host working today. He also wrote and wrote and co-starred in Saving Grace, one of the funniest movies ever made.

  32. Maybe the lack of US sketch comedy shows has got to do with the longer TV seasons? It’s hard enough to come up with sketch ideas for 6 or 8 episodes, let alone 12 or even 24.

  33. just some a-hole (har!)

    March 2nd, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Say Vern, I thought I’d been sufficiently flippant and self-deprecating from out the gate to avoid getting my card pulled but I guess not. Also, it looks like you had a little platitudinous instinct kick in as well; yes, people perform repetitious and satisfying private rituals, and yes, people like to unify around shared entertainment- that’s why we’re all at your site I’m pretty sure.

    Dumb retort: You’re just wrong and boring on this particular point in my opinion. Leno is the one with a code of honor involving the artistic life (see: Actor’s Studio episode and the article) and his responsibility to his longtime staff (see: the article); more important and significant, he’s the only one in the equation who’s been taken to task because of his code. Your strange decision to paint the situation in moral absolutes is producing a simplistic conclusion and blinding you to more interesting interpretations.

    And stop belittling codes of honor by bestowing them onto unworthy candidates. Conan is a hell of a funny guy, but I think you said it best: he’s someone who wanted something real bad and then didn’t get it. You characterize his refusal to continue the show as one of heroic integrity. Some might say he just quit, perhaps even for superficial reasons involving vanity, and let the show and whatever was left of its good name destruct. And while Billy Jack had to go to jail and forgo his death in resistance, and Dirty Harry had to throw away his badge, Conan had to take a thirty-million dollar buyout deal.

    These are just some thoughts.

  34. The easiest thing for Conan to do would be to go along with it, keep the show but just have a timeslot half an hour later (still half an hour earlier than he had last year). He chose the harder decision due to his personal belief that keeping the Tonight Show in its traditional timeslot was more important than keeping his job. That’s a code of honor.

    Sorry if I was too harsh, though. Maybe I read your post more aggressive than I was supposed to.

  35. I haven’t had television service in about 12 years, so my observations aren’t based on regular viewings. Mostly I see tv over at friends’ homes or when I visit my mum. So maybe I’m wrong about some of this stuff, but here’s what I’ve gleened:

    SNL’s got a big problem retaining talent. I remember when I was a teenager it used to be that guys like Adam Sandler or Mike Myers would start off on the sidelines at SNL, honed their craft, move to a more prominent role, develope some reoccurring characters, do a couple good years of service and THEN move on to do maybe one or two okay movies followed by a lot of crappier movies. Now it seems like anybody with remote talent who ends up on SNL gets scooped up and offered their own show or movie right away before they bloom on the show.

    I guess right now Kristen Wiig seems like the funniest person on the show the times I’ve caught it. Strangely she’s been in two movies I saw (Whip-It and Extract) but playing a serious supporting role and not being all wacky like she’s famous for on the show.

    I got my mum to tape it when Jon Hamm hosted because I really like him and he was fucking awesome.

  36. Today I’ve learned that there’s a Generation Jones and that The Kids In The Hall have new material out. Vern should get government funding or something, ’cause this place is like The Electric Company.

  37. Good review as always, Vern- I remember thinking this was a pretty good one when I saw it back in the day. I also agreed completely with a-hole until I read your response and felt like a jerk by proxy. You’re BOTH right, fellas! All I will say about this, as someone who finds Leno incredibly grating, is that in addition to someone who wants to keep his cush TV job, he is also the head of a company that employs hundreds of people. I’d imagine the fact that, should he retire, everyone who works for him would be out of work during a really difficult time might have factored into his desire to keep his show in production. Conan got severance for his people, and we all know his show will be back in some capacity next year. So all in all, a happy ending all around for the real people that are employed by these shows. Maybe there’s a lot of benefit-of-the-doubt at work here, but I have a feeling Leno doesn’t deserve to be painted as such a villain. Unfunny, yes. Villainous, no. Also I apologize if anyone already made this point- I didn’t get a chance to read each & every preceding post.

  38. Yeah, a-hole already made that point. Good on ya, a-hole.

    So I agree with a-hole about Leno, and I agree with Vern about Blade.

  39. re: Stiller, don’t forget Permanent Midnight, a great little biopic about a writer for the TV show “Alf”. It’s a heroin movie (of course). Great stuff, Stiller’s performance is funny without being muggy or hammy, he even manages to be sympathetic.

    And he was ok in Royal Tenenbaums although he didn’t get much to do.

  40. Hey Andrew, please tell us who you find funny.

  41. bob balaban sounds like a cimmerian warrior.

    and saturday night live was never funny. I had cable and watched that shit a lot in the nineties.

  42. The book was great, a lot juicier than they could fit into the movie.

    I remember when this came out, David Letterman most scoffed at a scene portraying him throwing baseballs at an archery target. He brought people out on his show to do that in the studio.

  43. You already know therefore significantly in relation to this subject, produced me for my part imagine it from so many various angles. Its like women and men aren’t involved unless it’s one thing to do with Girl gaga! Your own stuffs nice. Always take care of it up!

  44. Just watched this. I’d really like to see HBO do a sequel about the whole Conan mess, especially as I think there was a sequel to the book this movie is based on about it. Surprised Vern didn’t bring up Reni Santoni (in DIRTY HARRY as the titular character’s first of many doomed partners). John Kapelos who plays Letterman’s producer had a nice run as the villainous Picker on JUSTIFIED.

    I’m really sad to see Letterman go. I wasn’t an avid watcher but I always found him funnier then Leno. I also might be a bit biased because he comes from Indiana, but he has a sense of humor that’s very Midwestern at heart. Think Colbert will do a good enough job, will be interesting to see him fill those shoes and change his style.

  45. https://tv.yahoo.com/news/lettermans-show-extends-invite-ex-rival-leno-report-211203815.html

    This would be awesome (though even more awesome if Jerry Lawler came back on). Though I prefer Letterman, I don’t think Leno is the Antichrist like some do. I don’t think he did himself any favors not speaking up more but that’s his prerogative.

    Vern, have you seen any of Larry Wilmore’s new show? Think it would be a bit down your alley.

  46. Yeah, I like Larry Wilmore and his Nightly Show is good so far. Seems like it will be hard to keep the topics as good as they’ve been so far, but he’s a smart guy.

  47. He talked about vaccines the other night, so it’s probable he’s going to cover a wider net than just racial issues though those still might take center stage to a degree. I like him too, he was on Maron’s show a while back and can relate to his humor and world view quite well.

    Getting back to this, for what it is it’s enjoyable enough. It came out right before HBO blew up as a provider of original content so it still has that cable movie feel, where what they do now would be easily passable in cinemas. This has more the feel of their best known original show at the time, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW which obviously covered similar ground. Did it a lot better too.

    Roebuck did a fair forgery of Leno, hampered somewhat by the makeup job (he could have passed for Leno without it easily). Higgins comes out a little more ahead, when he’s not trying to match Dave’s humor and having more personal moments. Balaban is great, but it’s harder to find something he’s not appealing in. Williams as Ovitz was quite good too, especially after seeing the real deal in the Lew Wasserman doc THE LAST MOGUL recently. I disagree that the Kathy Bates character is painted as the villain, but not enough to say that Vern’s reasons why aren’t without merit.

  48. Speaking of Conan, does anyone miss the days when his show was actually laugh out loud funny? Late Night had some of the funniest shit I’ve ever seen on it, his TBS show is “pleasant”, a decent time waster and maybe will provide a chuckle if you’re lucky, but that’s about it.

  49. From what I’ve seen I have to agree. Losing Max Weinberg and bringing back Andy Richter hasn’t done him any favors either. I guess the comfort of having a show which he owns, and not being beholden to a property that was passed onto him, means he doesn’t swing for the fences as much as he used to. It’s kind of sad because there’s nothing currently as subversive as his NBC show was (or Letterman’s back in the day). Craig Ferguson came somewhat close to that, but now he’s gone of course.

  50. onthewall – I didn’t think he was only dealing with race, I just meant he’s had great topics so far and after he’s been on the air for a while he’ll start running into “well, vaccines are in the news, but we’ve done that before.” They’ll figure it out, though.

  51. I think Conan also doesn’t want to rock the boat by getting too weird since I’m sure The Tonight Show fiasco scared the hell out of him and he feels lucky to still have a TV show at all, which I can understand, but I still wish he would strive for excellence as opposed to “good enough”.

    I actually really liked his version of The Tonight Show by the way, it was a bit more similar to Late Night, just with a much nicer set (one nicer than even his current one in fact), it’s so fucking absurd NBC didn’t even let it last a full year.

  52. I didn’t watch his Tonight Show until it was clear he was leaving, those I remember being really good because his jabs at NBC’s incompetence were priceless. Even when he was on Late Night, he didn’t mince words when it came to NBC’s failings. I remember a bit he did about how they can even go further down in ratings, and he had the suggestion of showing NASCAR races in slow motion, set to jazz.

  53. This one randomly showed up on one of my streaming things and I have to say, it’s interesting how something like a few TV hosts fighting over a timeslot could become such a problem, that books and movies were made about it. Something like that would never become such a big affair in Germany. But sadly the movie is 95% about TV executives talking about contracts, so maybe it wasn’t the best topic to turn into a movie, even if it was entertaining enough.

    Gotta revise my comment above from almost 12 years ago though. Daniel Roebuck IS a good choice as an actor who I like and who is pretty easy to transform into an alternate universe Jay Leno, but his performance here was pretty spotty. He had the Leno, who told jokes in front of TV cameras down, but when he had to play him as a “real” person, the voice he did became really distracting.

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