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Coke & Bourbon St.

Cola king funds Kilborn's trip to Big Easy

Craig Kilborn is hittin’ the road — and he’s taking Coca-Cola with him.

For the first time since he took over as host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show,” Kilborn’s gabber will move outside its Los Angeles studio for a week of segs. Show will originate from New Orleans the week of March 31- April 4, smack dab in the middle of the Eye’s coverage of the NCAA tourney and right before the start of the Final Four.

Not-so-coincidentally, the Final Four takes place in the Big Easy this year.

Latenight gabfests have been studio-bound in recent years, with producers largely figuring the extra coin needed for traveling a show doesn’t produce enough of a ratings bump. But CBS has found a way to make the numbers work: Get Coke to foot a large chunk of the deal to broadcast from Generations Hall.

Thanks to a deal engineered by CAA, which reps Coke and Kilborn and producer Worldwide Pants, the soft drink giant will sponsor “The Late Late Show” during its week down south.

Coke will get a mention during the show’s opening titles and will also have a presence on its set. There will also be at least one nightly Coke-themed seg, such as the “Coca-Cola Basketball Shootout.”

What’s more, Kilborn is at the center of Coke’s nationwide NCAA promo push, which will include supermarket displays featuring Coke and Kilborn; commercials featuring the yakker; and a Kilborn presence on the soda-maker’s NCAA Web site, www.cokemadness.com.

Eye isn’t giving out details, but industry insiders said most of the nearly $1 million it takes to put a show on the road will be covered by Coca-Cola.

“Coke’s support is making this happen,” said CBS marketing guru George Schweitzer.

Coke is a top sponsor of the Eye’s NCAA tourney coverage, so there was already a relationship in place to exploit. CAA and Coke then pitched the Eye on bringing in “Late Late Show.”

“Craig is perfect for this,” Schweitzer said. “He’s a former college basketball player and he hosted on ESPN. It’s a very good advertising platform for Coke.”

“Late Late Show” exec producer Todd Yasui said the folks at Coke have not demanded any sweeping concession in exchange for the sponsorship.

“They’ve actually been really cool and worked well with us in using Coke in an organic way to the show,” Yasui said. “You won’t have Craig doing anything that looks like he’s being too much of a huckster.”

Yasui said both the gabber and Coke stand to gain from the partnership.

“We get to take the show to a higher level, and they get to reach a really young, affluent audience.”

As for Kilborn, he’s just happy to be headed for New Orleans for a week.

“Finally, 16 years of banjo lessons are going to pay off big time,” he said.