February 24, 1996
Web posted at: 8:50 a.m. EST
From Entertainment Correspondent Paul Vercammen
HOLLYWOOD, California (CNN) -- For two people at least, the upcoming HBO movie "The Late Shift" is no laughing matter. Jay Leno and David Letterman have vowed that they won't watch the portrayals of them on the cable channel.
"The Late Shift" paints a picture of an entertainment industry that's cut-throat, back-stabbing, and filled with media power brokers. The two-hour movie outlines the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman over who would wear Johnny Carson's late night TV crown. When Leno was named Carson's successor, the movie shows Letterman wanting to quit his show on NBC.
After Letterman bid his farewell to NBC, the movie showcases a network war that breaks out over the free-wheeling Letterman. At the time, he was a free market commodity hotter than his Top 10 lists.
Actor John Michael Higgins transformed himself into the man who would eventually end up at CBS.
"They colored my hair so that it is orange," Higgins says. "For some reason, it looks right on film. And they curled it a bit, just ran a hamster through it a bit, and it looks right. And fake teeth."
For the man that played Letterman's chief rival, Jay Leno, it took a little more work to get the look right. First, Daniel Roebuck had to get the voice down.
"I would listen to (Jay Leno) on the way to work," says Roebuck. "I had videos over the course of the year in my trailer that I would listen to whenever I needed to come back to Jay."
But more than the voice, the main obstacle for Roebuck was the infamous Leno jawline.
"It was a chin and padding and eyes and teeth," he says. "Things that you wouldn't even think of that aren't even obvious in looking at me. All that stuff really helps to get to where you have to be."
In the movie, viewers get a glimpse into the lives of the two comedians during their initial fight for a niche in late night television. Today, the authentic Letterman and Leno battle it out at separate homes on separate networks.
But more than the comedians, the movie is about the media power brokers. "The Late Shift" takes the view that it's the TV moguls that decide which stars go where, and that in the end, Leno and Letterman are just part of a high-stakes chess game to see who would become the king of late night.
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