On Monday, The Late Late Show's Craig Ferguson announced he would be leaving the show and "consciously uncoupling" from CBS.
In his statement, Ferguson joked that he and the network would still share custody of two popular props from the show:
"CBS and I are not getting divorced, we are 'consciously uncoupling,' but we will still spend holidays together and share custody of the fake horse and robot skeleton, both of whom we love very much."
The announcement comes on the heels of news that current Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert would take over the Late Show reins from David Letterman in 2015, as well as reports that CBS had approached John Oliver to fill the 12:30 slot should Ferguson not re-up his contract. There had also been rumors that CBS had been in talks with E! late night host Chelsea Handler — rumors that Handler swiftly dismissed when she told Ellen DeGeneres that "I would never go to CBS. I'm not … my mouth … what would they do with me there?"
So. Where does Ferguson go from here?
Much of Ferguson's appeal — and the challenge he poses to networks — is that his sense of humor and his interviewing style are so markedly different from those of today's current crop of polished, network-groomed, focus group-tested late night hosts. (Jimmy Kimmel's tendency to piss off foreign governments notwithstanding.) Those hosts seem to defer to the camera with practiced and patented knowing looks; Ferguson is watching things unfold almost like a fellow viewer surprised to have found himself on the opposite side of the lens.
His late (late) time slot allowed Ferguson the creative freedom to toy with the late show format in a way that suited him (including having a mildly terrifying skeleton robot as his sidekick), and to experiment when presenting a monologue or conducting celebrity interviews. Indeed, back in 2008, The Sunday Times shared American TV historian Ben Alba's declaration that Ferguson had "already made his mark, taking the TV monologue to new levels with an underlying story," adding that the Glasgow, Scotland-born host "is only just starting out here. He is making up his own rules: It's the immigrant experience." The article also praised Ferguson's interview style, suggesting that it had placed him "into the front row of contenders to take over the chat show hosted by his CBS stablemate Letterman when the veteran compere bows out gracefully over the next few years."
He's an odd, alluring mix of Vaudeville slapstick, zany dad humor, sexual innuendo, and 90s Nickelodeon-era weirdness, punctuating his hosting duties with quirks like flinging out letters from fans too quickly for the camera to catch, inviting guests to play the mouth organ with him, and drinking from a mug shaped like a rattlesnake. He also breastfeeds his pet ferrets. You can check out some bits and pieces (including the ferrets), in the following highlight video:
The man can even perform a show without an audience. That's no small feat within the late night show format to which we're so accustomed, requiring cued-up laughter from audience members. In his monologue for the audience-less show, Ferguson opens with a veritable love letter to the history of late night programming. He might be a host, but he's never stopped being a fan:
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