EXCLUSIVE: We’re probably years away from the sequel to HBO’s 1996 movie The Late Shift about the recent late-night shakeup at NBC. But, until then, there’s another longform TV project about turbulent times in NBC latenight already in the works. Clash of the Titans producer Basil Iwanyk of Thunder Road and Kevin J. Cleary of Content House are developing The King of Late Night, a miniseries based on book The Tonight Show by Robert Metz, which was published by Playboy Press back in 1980. It chronicles the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the development of the show and its first three hosts, Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. The producers have done a treatment and are meeting with potential writers and directors for the mini, which is targeted for cable.
“Steve, Jack and Johnny all battled their personal daemons as well as network executives,” Cleary said. “Network executives have been screwing with talent for a long, long time; it hasn’t just been David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. The only one who actually beat them at their own game was Johnny Carson who got to own the show.
Cleary calls the project “The Rat Pack version of The Late Shift” with a lot of cigarette smoking and martini drinking, something that has been made cool again by AMC’s period drama Mad Men. The King of Late Night draws inspiration from other films made about the 1950s and 1960s TV industry like Quiz Show and Good Night, and Good Luck.
The producers have not started looking at actors to play Carson, Allen and Paar, so feel free to make your suggestions.