The Best of Late Night, at the Movies and Beyond


The new horror-thriller “Late Night With the Devil” stars David Dastmalchian as the host of “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” where, on Halloween night 1977, an occult-themed episode takes a dark turn during the live broadcast. Shot in a found-footage way that unearths the “lost” episode, the movie (now in theaters, streaming on Shudder on April 22) is a satirical throwback to the era’s supernatural and religious fanaticism, with a notable nod to “The Exorcist.” And it is one of the most recent in a string of late-night moments that make their way to the big and small screens.

Late-night hosts past and present have lent their sets (and sometimes themselves) to projects, while fictional nods and fake hosts pop up elsewhere. From Gucci campaigns featuring James Corden interviewing Harry Styles to several “Simpsons” cameos and sendups, to David Letterman crossovers on “Seinfeld,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Roseanne,” late-night hosts play a particularly present role in popular culture.

Below is a select look at the times late-night television has smartly made its way into fictional movies and TV.

Rent on Apple TV or Amazon.

In this film directed by Don Weis, Connie Francis stars as Libby Caruso, an aspiring singer who initially found success peddling a line of women’s clothing. Booked on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” to talk fashion, Libby makes mention of her singing and sees her life change after Carson invites her to perform a song.

Stream it on Hulu.

Martin Scorsese’s follow-up to “Raging Bull” reunited the director with Robert De Niro for this dark satire. De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, a fame-obsessed aspiring stand-up comedian who kidnaps the late-night host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) and blackmails his way into his gig. Believing himself to be a star, Rupert’s ruse pays off as he becomes infamous and lives in a fantasy of his own making.

Stream it on Max.

After guest hosting “The Tonight Show” in the 1980s, Garry Shandling was offered his own late-night gig, but turned it down to star in this HBO parody of the genre instead. Famous for breaking the fourth wall, Sanders’s on-screen alter ego took viewers through the day-to-day of crafting a monologue, interviewing celebrity guests and handling backstage drama. A precursor to “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the series featured comedians and other public figures playing exaggerated versions of themselves, including David Letterman.

Stream it on Max.

Based on Bill Carter’s book of the same name, this made-for-TV movie brought the industry conflict of the post-Johnny Carson era to life. When Carson announces his retirement in 1991, Jay Leno (played by Daniel Roebuck) and David Letterman (John Michael Higgins) battle to take over “The Tonight Show.” Directed by Betty Thomas, this film offers a heightened version of the tumult that would ultimately lead to the creation of Letterman’s “Late Show” on CBS.

Stream it on Netflix.

On an episode aptly titled “The Merv Griffin Show,” Kramer discovers the complete set for the long-running talk show in a dumpster and sets it up in his apartment so that when friends come by, he’s quite literally playing host. Kramer’s invasive tabloid-style interviewing of his guests incites arguments between Jerry and a girlfriend (for good reason), and a hawk and a squirrel, whose altercation trashes the set for good.

Stream it on Adult Swim.

The reimagining of the original Space Ghost character when Cartoon Network debuted featured the animated star hosting his own late-night talk show featuring real live-action guests. A has-been superhero, Space Ghost enlisted his enemies Zorak and Moltar to work on his show and brought out stars like Eartha Kitt and Alice Cooper in its lengthy run on-and-off over 11 seasons. Jon Stewart appears on a 1997 episode called “Mayonnaise,” in which Space Ghost tries to sell the “Daily Show” host on aromatherapy, to disastrous results.

Stream it on Peacock and Hulu.

Conan O’Brien played himself in several episodes of the NBC hit series “30 Rock,” including an interview gone wrong in a Season 1 episode called “Tracy Does Conan,” when Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) tries to stab O’Brien. The show had a running joke about lingering tension between O’Brien and Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, which ended with an awkward elevator run-in between exes: “We dated for a year!” O’Brien says to a tuned-out Lemon. “We were going to lose our virginity to each other!”

Stream it on Netflix.

Stephen Colbert was still hosting “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central when he appeared on the Season 3 premiere of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” interviewing Kevin Spacey’s President Frank Underwood about his America Works plan. In typical Colbert fashion, the host challenged Underwood on his big dreams for bipartisan support for his jobs program and teased that “AmWorks” was “a socialist redistribution of wealth wherein the baby boomers latch onto the millennials like a lamprey and just keep sucking until they’re as dry as a crouton.”

When the Muppets returned to weekly television in 2015, the premise was all about “Up Late With Miss Piggy.” Shot like a documentary series following the muppets in their daily lives working for the show, Miss Piggy’s recent ex, Kermit, was her executive producer, while the rest of Jim Henson’s brood worked in the writers’ room or elsewhere on set. A few celebrities pop by to duet (or duel) with the host on the short-lived series, but Miss Piggy was loath to share the stage for too long, per usual.

Stream it on Tubi.

As the head talent booker on the fifth-highest-rated late-night talk show, “Nightcap With Jimmy,” Staci Cole (played by the show’s creator Ali Wentworth) tries to wrangle her staff while appeasing celebrity guests. The show only had two seasons on the Pop network, but a stable of personalities popped by to play themselves, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kelly Ripa, Andy Cohen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Denis Leary and Wentworth’s husband, George Stephanopoulos.

In this dark drama from Todd Phillips, Robert De Niro goes from playing the kidnapper of a late-night host to playing the host himself. In the role, De Niro pays tribute to his parts in “The King of Comedy” as well as in “Taxi Driver,” hosting Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur (a.k.a. the Joker) as a guest on his show. It involves a tense appearance that goes off the rails.

Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.

Mindy Kaling wrote and co-starred in this 2019 comedy about a fictional host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who, despite being likable, is struggling to keep viewers for her show, “Tonight With Katherine Newbury.” Kaling plays the aspiring monologue writer Molly Patel, who joins the staff just in time to help Katherine navigate the network’s attempt to replace her with a hack.

Stream it on Netflix.

On an episode called “The Horny Unicorn,” Samantha Bee makes a brief appearance voicing an animated version of herself as an anthropomorphic bee hosting a show on “T-Bee-S.” When she lobs a joke aimed at BoJack, he deems it an “unfair drive-by,” which only gets worse before he turns her off altogether.

Stream it on Amazon Prime Video.

Reid Scott portrayed the late-night host Gordon Ford, loosely based on Johnny Carson, on Seasons 4 and 5 of the Emmy-winning Amazon series. Still looking to make a name for herself on television, the comedian Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is hoping for her breakthrough moment after Susie (Alex Borstein) finagles her a set on “The Gordon Ford Show.” But Midge finds herself having tension with Ford, who doesn’t give her a laugh until the audience does first. Ultimately, he deems her “the marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on the series finale.

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