The CBS latenight host also is resigned to the fact that few people will believe his assertion that he began thinking about ending his run on the show as long as two years ago, but he re-upped after CBS persuaded him to stick around a little longer. Early this year, he began laying the groundwork for his exit, before he had any idea that Letterman was preparing to announce his plan to retire in 2015.
“It wasn’t contentious. I was just like, ‘I feel like I’m done,’ ” Ferguson told Variety. “We were all fine and were tying up loose ends. And then Dave surprised everybody with the (April 3) announcement and that threw a spanner in the works. And I had to sit and keep my mouth shut while speculation raged wildly.”
Ferguson initially planned to sign off this summer, but CBS asked him to stay until December to give them more time to set a replacement. Ferguson agreed because it gives his staff and crew more time to find new gigs.
“It’s an inevitable thing when David announced his retirement, people are going to say ‘Oh he’s leaving because of that.’ No matter what I say or what I do, they’re gonna say that. Well they can say what they like. It’s America. I understand.”
The simple fact is, Ferguson wanted to move on before the work became a chore. He’s proud of the show and how oddball it is — with a robot skeleton and stuffed horse for sidekicks. But he has “ideas” for new things and is engaged with the various projects that his Green Mountain West production banner is developing for Science Channel and Discovery. And he’s got a new gig starting in the fall as host and producer of the syndie gameshow “Celebrity Name Game.”
“Ten years is a very long time in one job — for me,” he said. “I wanted to leave the show before I stopped enjoying it. That was my goal. I didn’t want it to be a chore….The whole idea is that show business should have some adventure to it, I think. It’s not about knowing what you’re doing day in and day out, year after year.”
Another latenight talk show is highly unlikely, despite the vacancy that’s about to open up at Comedy Central when “The Colbert Report” wraps. “I don’t know if I would ever do a latenight talkshow (again). It just doesn’t feel like that’s the way I’m headed,” he said.
Ferguson reiterated, as he has in interviews over the years, that taking over the 11:35 p.m. slot from Dave was never his ambition. But again, he accepts that people will view this as a he-doth-protest-too-much situation.
“I had no desire — none — to do that job,” Ferguson said. “I could barely keep it together at 12:30, never mind 11:30. Nobody wants to hear it. It’s so bizarre. People want it to be Jay and Dave or Jay and Conan or some kind of big story. That’s not me, that’s not what I want. I think what happens is that certain people want you to want it, and they want you to not get it. If that makes ‘em happy, well…It really wasn’t what I aspired to. Doing this job wasn’t something I aspired to, either. I kind of fell into this.”
But what about the reports that Ferguson’s last contract included a clause that calls for him to see an eight-figure payout if he was not chosen as Letterman’s successor? Ferguson paused, and then cited words of advice from a seasoned Scottish comedian, Johnny Beattie, who befriended him years ago.
“He told me, ‘There’s two things we never discuss: Wages and ages.’ So I think I’m gonna stick to that.”