It's a sad day for fans of irreverent late night comedy, everybody. Craig Ferguson has announced that he will "consciously uncouple" from CBS and leave behind his Late Late Show desk at the end of this year, exiting just shy of his 10-year anniversary with the show and a bit before his mentor and lead-in, David Letterman, who will be replaced by Stephen Colbert at some point in 2015.Created nearly 20 years ago, The Late Late Show hasn't achieved the legendary status that NBC's Late Night show has, but Ferguson has been its most successful alumnus, doubling the tenure of both Tom Snyder and Craig Kilborn while winning a legion of fans who have celebrated the host's more casual, sometimes rebellious, and often off-the-wall style.
Secretariat the dancing horse, Geoff the robot skeleton sidekick, the awkward pause, Wavy Ranchero the crocodile puppet, and Ferguson's penchant for going off-book will surely be the bullet points when his legacy is written, but there have also been moments of great depth on the show.
Ferguson's handling of the Boston Marathon bombing last year earned him wide acclaim, as have his interviews with Bishop Desmond Tutu (which netted the show a 2009 Peabody Award) and the one-on-one intimate chat Ferguson had with Stephen Fry back in 2010 that Ferguson did in celebration of late night history, Tom Snyder, and the lost art of conversation.
In addition to these moments, Ferguson has also seemingly hid nothing from his audience, talking openly about the death of his parents, his past substance abuse and his path to sobriety (most notably during a monologue about why he would refrain from making fun of Britney Spears back in 2007), and the Scottish born comic's path to US citizenship.
But while Ferguson has a had a great ride, he has also repeatedly indicated that he might not be a sure bet to stick around when Letterman left CBS, and last night he made it a point to tell his audience that he is leaving on his own terms and that he had almost left two years ago. During his time on the air, Ferguson maintained the career of someone who certainly didn't plan on being a late night lifer, with multiple one-hour specials, a novel ("Between the Bridge and the River") and a memoir ("America on Purpose").
As for the future, The Wrap indicates that Ferguson has a few things in progress with his production company, Green Mountain West, including a syndicated game show that is set to debut in the fall, though it's fair to wonder if Ferguson will seek out another late night position (perhaps something on a weekly basis) at some point, or if he will instead consider this phase of his career complete and successful.
Regarding the future of The Late Late Show, that is a wide open question. David Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, controlled ownership of the 12:35 show, but with Letterman leaving, that arrangement is clearly null and it's not likely that Colbert has the same bargaining power on his way in the door as Letterman did when he secured that right, which Johnny Carson also had with NBC in his heyday. Really, CBS could go in any number of directions with Stephen Colbert's eventual running mate, including shuttering the program altogether.
While Ferguson has received ample critical acclaim, his show has not been a runaway ratings success and it isn't necessarily cheap (with Ferguson's reportedly pulling in about $13 million dollars a year), frequently under-drawing against his NBC competition over the years, including the newborn Late Night with Seth Meyers, which has averaged about 25% more total viewers than The Late Late Show since its February debut.
Still, while Ferguson's iteration wasn't a gold mine for CBS, it's entirely possible that the network could choose to field a program with a fresh face and save money on the overhead rather than cede the 12:35 timeslot to NBC. A move that could be good for the state of broadcast late night comedy, a medium that is in desperate need of legitimately fresh blood (not another established star) and one that should mimic cable's willingness to be less precious about these shows and take chances with a young talent that could one day become a star.
A young talent that might also embrace Ferguson's legacy by going their own way, because the thing that broadcast late night needs more than anything else is a bit of flavor and a bit of uniqueness, especially now that its most unique show is going the way of the Dodo.
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson airs on CBS Monday through Friday @12:35am.
Source: The Wrap