Looking back now, I can totally see how Craig Ferguson went from being the Nigel Wick on The Drew Carey Show to one of the last great madcap late night hosts. I mean, it makes perfect sense when you watch old clips of the Scottish-born Ferguson, over-doing his English accent “to make up for generations of English actors doing crap Scottish accents.” Craig Ferguson is a little crazy, and only crazy people could pull off the sort of brilliance and hilarity he squeezed into the show that many of us insomniacs just couldn’t get enough of. If you don’t actually agree with me that Ferguson might be a little off his rocker, skip to about 4:19 of his 2009 interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (which won him a Peabody Award), where the Nobel Prize winner actually also mentions that he thinks his host might be a little nuts.
Now Ferguson is “consciously uncoupling” from CBS, and stepping down as the host of the Late Late Show, two weeks after it was announced that he had been passed over to take David Letterman’s spot as host of The Late Show, the network picking Stephen Colbert instead. Obviously this all comes with a nifty severance package that is reported at somewhere between eight and twelve million dollars, so Ferguson can’t be all that bitter about the decision, and he also mentioned in his exit that he and CBS, “will still spend holidays together and share custody of the fake horse and robot skeleton, both of whom we love very much.” So it seems that all’s well that ends well.
But money and the fates of Secretariat the horse and Geoff Peterson, his robot skeleton sidekick aside, Ferguson’s exit should be welcomed with a sigh of relief more than a grunt or groan of sadness. Even though The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson was unlike anything else on network television, with a great host who made great conversations with great guests, weird jokes, and plenty of off-the-wall antics, I fear that, like Letterman and Conan O’Brien before him, the earlier slot would have tamed the show a great deal, and robbed it of what has made it such a wonderful way to spend the part of the night when most normal people are rightfully asleep. The thing you want to mourn, however, is the end of era of the weirdo running the ship that is late night TV. A lineage that ends with Ferguson while the Stephen Colbert character turns into Stephen Colbert: Charming Host, Jimmy Fallon continues to get excited about everything, Seth Meyers keeps on trying to impress us, Conan keeps on being Conan, and Jimmy Kimmel goes on existing.
That lineage — one that Letterman in his early days was a crucial part of, and includes names like Peter Ivers with New Wave Theatre, Glenn O’Brien with TV Party, and even Arsenio Hall’s willingness in the early 1990s to try different things to reach out to a younger audience that Johnny Carson was failing to capture — is filled with people who didn’t seem to give a fuck. People who went against the grain, hosts who were subversive, smart, and most importantly, funny. They didn’t necessarily have to host a show during a prime spot on network television, but they had enough autonomy to do different things, be themselves, and create something you can’t copy. Ferguson is one of those hosts, and while I’ll miss watching him occupying my time in the hours when I should be sleeping, he’s better off riding Secretariat off into the sunset (or sunrise, I guess), and letting late night television go down a more boring course.