The Late Late Show formed part of Letterman’s own contract. Because the two shows were produced by the same company, one has to wonder if CBS were only holding onto Ferguson till Letterman left. But on the Monday show’s cold open, Ferguson dispelled rumors he was kicked out: “About two years ago,” he said, “I had decided after eight years … that it was probably time for me to move on and do something else.”
Eric Deggans weighs Ferguson’s contributions to the late-night genre, which he disrupted much as Letterman did:
He never had a backing band – in part, early on, it was likely a money thing. But even after CBS upgraded his studio, Ferguson avoided the bandleader sidekick and live music, instead trading banter with a skeletal robot and with two people in horse’s costume. Really.
As interviews began with guests, Ferguson would symbolically rip up his blue note cards as a way of signifying that what was coming wasn’t really planned. Sometimes, that brought a lot of empty riffing with a celebrity who just couldn’t keep up. But sometimes, you got this (warning: parts of this are a little NSFW). …
Small wonder that more traditional shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers beat The Late Late Show in ratings. And it’s also no surprise that Ferguson might get tired of re-inventing the form every night and just move on (he already has his next TV gig lined up: hosting his syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game). Beyond hoping they don’t hire yet another white male, I’m crossing my fingers that CBS succeeds Ferguson with someone just as willing to blow up conventional ideas of what a late night talk show can and should be.
David Sims admires Ferguson’s approach to comedy as well as his serious moments:
His only Emmy nomination for the show came from the 2006 eulogy he delivered for his father, who had died the previous weekend [see the above video; Part 2 here]. Even though Ferguson has always been a candid and open performer, it was still a beautiful moment, one of those rare times on television when a performer seems as personally close as a family member.
Ferguson, a recovering alcoholic, was also resolute in which targets he would pick for mockery in his opening monologue, and shied away from criticizing celebrities who had similar substance abuse problems or were obviously going through profound suffering in public. It’s a tough line for any comedian to walk, and Ferguson would probably be the first to admit he broke his own rules, but his willingness to discuss the issue also set him apart from other late night hosts.
Poniewozik refrains from speculating over who will replace him and instead suggests that CBS put something entirely different in The Late Late Show‘s time slot:
Ferguson’s audience was small but intense, but for many others, late-night only exists as a kind of cultural proxy. There should maybe be a punch-card system, in which you need to show proof of having actually watched 20 full talk-show episodes in a year before venturing a heated opinion as to who hosts one. As a colleague once told me back during the Jay/Conan disaster, “I don’t really watch Conan, but I like to know that he’s there.”
So people will debate, again, who should host CBS’s late-late show, but there’s a good argument that we don’t need the show at all–not, anyway, a show with a monologue, a house band, two interviews and a musical guest. CBS might do much better creating a program to reach some part of the vast, vast audience that does not watch talk shows, period.