Craig Ferguson wasn’t going to get a promotion, and after doing the same thing for nearly a decade, chose to quit his job. In the bigger scheme of things – especially for a guy with a lot of money and plenty of options – that’s not much of a newsflash.
But latenight television is unique in a lot of ways, and one of them is that the over-sized talent – often identifiable to the world by their first names – usually has an opportunity to explain a decision to leave, unlike almost everyone else in the world or even in TV, where shows and personalities disappear all the time, without always meriting a lot of fanfare.
The prospect of Ferguson moving on had seemed likely after CBS opted to fill David Letterman’s slot with Stephen Colbert, even if the Comedy Central host was about as close to a perfect choice – taking into account the unpredictable nature of such situations – as the network could have made.
In a brief on-air opening, Ferguson made clear the exit was his idea, on his terms. He even urged his fans not to gripe about CBS. “This is my decision to go,” he said, insisting the network “has been great with me.”
Both on Monday’s show and in an interview with Variety, Ferguson also maintained he had decided to hang it up before Letterman’s surprise announcement. Ferguson jokingly told people not to believe the speculation they’ll read – even that emanating from the “informed entertainment press.”
Yet at the risk of falling into that dreaded camp, this much appears obvious: While CBS doubtless would have been fine with Ferguson sticking around in his present capacity, the network soured on him at some point in the context of potentially being a viable heir to the 11:35 p.m. showcase. And if he didn’t harbor any aspirations for that bump, the Scotsman would be nearly unique among latenight hosts since Letterman gave birth to the “Late Night” franchise at NBC.
The other thought, watching Ferguson riff with his robot, is such skepticism seems justified. Ferguson’s show is loose, fun, irreverent, but it’s often just plain silly — a vibe better suited, frankly, to a timeslot where the most formidable competition is sleep.
On the plus side, Ferguson’s departure offers CBS another shot at filling a latenight vacancy, and perhaps addressing the criticism that all these shows on the major networks – even with the changing of the guard taking place – are still fronted by white men.
In some respects, Ferguson should be celebrated for even landing the gig in the first place — he was certainly an unconventional choice — and making “The Late Late Show” his own. Besides, it’ll be a long time before there’s another host who can match his Sean Connery impersonation.
“I’m not retiring or committing suicide,” Ferguson told guest LL Cool J.
On that score, at least, even the very informed entertainment press should happily take him at his word.