I recently finished Bill Carter’s excellent book The Late Shift. From the Wikipedia page:
The book chronicles the behind-the-scenes corporate battle surrounding American late-night talk shows, leading up to, and after, Johnny Carson’s 1992 retirement as host of NBC’s The Tonight Show. The book primarily details the power struggle between David Letterman and Jay Leno to succeed Carson as the “King of Late Night”, NBC choosing Leno over Letterman as the next Tonight Show host, and Letterman later moving to rival network CBS.
Already knowing the ending in no way prevented the story from completely captivating me. Bill did an amazing job researching every conceivable angle and gathering tons of personal information. He then presented everything so well and impartially that it was easy for me to understand how it started, who did what and why it turned out the way it did.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a real page turner filled with fascinating characters. It’s not just a story about the world of late-night television. It’s a story about real people taking sides and fighting a war for a unique prize. I know that sounds overly dramatic, but it was pretty dramatic for the people who lived through it.
I’ve started Bill’s follow-up The War for Late Night. I’ll let you know when I’ve finished it.