The cutthroat evolution of late-night talk shows is a long and fierce battle for advertising riches, ratings and sheer egotistical triumph. It’s the early 1980s and NBC’s Tonight Show is the unbeatable standard in its class, and its long-time host Johnny Carson the indisputable god of late night.  

Hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno and later Conan O’Brien all worship Carson. Each of them desperately covets the Tonight Show seat and will stop at nothing to get it. 

As fickle audiences demand increasingly cutting-edge entertainment after dark, the fight to win late night will be redefined. And it will be ugly.

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