NEW YORK — When Craig Ferguson, the newly appointed host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show” met with the staff of the show, he gave the writers a reassuring message: “No one is getting fired today.”
It’s only fair, he thought. After all, the writers have been on a roller-coaster ride through the departure of Craig Kilborn, four guest hosts with vastly different personalities, and now Ferguson, a Scot from Glasgow who swears he never aspired to the host’s chair in the first place.
Some writers may get his humor and p.o.v.; some may not. All will get a chance.
To be sure, Ferguson is planning changes for the show. The lighting must improve, the graphics and lead-in music will change, as will the show’s branding.
But until Ferguson’s tenure as host of the show, following David Letterman’s “Late Show” starting Jan. 3, he says he really doesn’t know just how his point-of-view will translate to the small screen.
“It’s funny because a lot of people expect you to act like you’ve won public office, but I don’t have a manifesto for this,” he says. “I will have to figure it out as I go along.”
Now, Ferguson says, he’s approaching the job as an actor would, talking to other pros and watching tape after tape of David Letterman, Johnny Carson, and even Regis Philbin, whom he considers one of the finest TV hosts of all time.
“The shows are dead-on their personality. To me, that’s the key. You have to make the show your own. What that means in a practical sense, I have no idea,” he says.
Todd Yasui, the show’s producer, says he believes Ferguson’s acting and comedy background will open the door to more character sketches.
During an interview with Variety, Ferguson deadpanned Tom Brokaw’s South Dakota twang, flipped into a Southern drawl and then an Irish brogue.
But the one direction Ferguson is giving the show’s writers is to try to break out of what he believes had become a tired latenight schtick.
As a relative newcomer to America — Ferguson says he’ll apply for citizenship as soon as he’s eligible — he feels a fervor for the nation not unlike recent converts to religion.
Indeed, he says, it’s similar to another immigrant with a sometimes-inscrutable accent: the Governator.
But there’s a difference between negativity and stirring things up a bit. The job of latenight is to poke fun at everyone, not be embedded in the camp of the cynics — or the jingoistic maniacs, for that matter.
“As I said to the writers, we’re hitting one note here. It’s not a bad note; it’s a cynical, groovy note. But it’s one note,” he says. “I want to branch out a bit.”