Thursday, January 21, 2010

Late Night TV Wars - the print edition

Although I don't normally consider myself much of a pop culture junkie, I've found myself oddly fascinated by the Late Night TV debacle that has been unfolding on NBC this week and last. Come on - admit it - you have been too. I guess we shouldn't feel too guilty - I mean it is the entertainment world and I, for one, have been highly entertained by all the drama and resulting comedy.

But, enough of that - I need to draw in a book connection (and there is one!). The TV industry does make for great reading sometimes - and there are a surprising number of books by and about late night TV hosts and their industry. Whether you're on Team Conan or Team Leno - you may find one of these titles interesting:

The Late Shift : Letterman, Leno, and the network battle for the night by Bill Carter. I've actually heard this book talked about more than once in the last week. It's an account of what happened the last time a big late night TV war broke out - back in the mid-1990s when Johnny Carson was retiring.

Although there isn't currently a Conan O'Brien biography or memoir - there is one for Jay Leno. The Leno Wit: his life and humor is a 1997 biography of Jay Leno written a few years after his takeover of the Tonight Show desk. I'd hazard a guess that both hosts will have new books in the next year, but in the meantime you can enjoy these other books, from late night personalities who aren't directly involved in the current events.

We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives : a swingin' show-biz saga is Canadian musician Paul Shaffer's memoir of
his years as band leader and side kick of David Letterman.
In American on Purpose : the improbable adventures of an unlikely patriot Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson tells his tale of moving to America and role as current host of CBS' Late Late Show . For fans of classic late night TV there's Here's Johnny, memories of the Johnny Carson Tonight Show years by Carson's late night sidekick Ed McMahon.

It's not surprising in the world of late night that we can even find comedic takes on the memoir: Confessions of a Late Night Talk Show Host : the autobiography of Larry Sanders by Garry Shandling is the memoir of a fictional talk show host - the character played by Shandling in the cult comedy The Larry Sanders Show. And speaking of fiction, I was surprised to stumble upon Eddie Krumble is the Clapper by Dito Montiel, a 2007 satirical novel about a professional paid audience member: the book features Jay Leno and his Tonight Show in a few major plot points.

If you're tired of frivolity of the late night game, but interested in the current exchange in terms of the changing face of TV in the 21st century, you may find Reality Show - inside the last great television news war by Howard Kurtz of interest. It looks at how some of the larger issues that have come into play in this particular late night TV war (the internet, the rise of cable, etc.) have also impacted news broadcasting. And if you really want to try and sort out the big picture of media - entertainment and otherwise - you could go back to theory and investigate the classic of media studies, Marshall McLuhan's 1964 title Understanding Media: the extensions of man.

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