As Craig Ferguson leaves late-night TV, there may still be far too much speculation out there about why he’s leaving “The Late Late Show.” While he’s already made it clear that it was a decision made some time ago, the timing is such that some media outlets will probably always speculate on other reasons. Here, you won’t find that, and instead looks at the possibilities of what more the show could have done to become even funnier with a slightly better budget. I’ve written about the show a couple of times back when it was still trying to find its footing, and it was clear the show always had limitations that made it a likely challenge every night.
One of the pieces I wrote showed initial concern over Ferguson moving to a larger studio a couple of years ago. While the move was reportedly necessary due to space limitations and maintenance issues, there was initial worry from some fans that the intimate party-like feel of the show would be ruined being in a larger and louder studio. It turned out that the new studio didn’t hinder anything and actually made the show better in many ways. That didn’t stop the thought of Ferguson eventually taking Letterman’s 11:35 p.m. slot and moving to an even larger studio.
At least we know now that Ferguson had no eye on becoming the king of 11:35 p.m. Yet, you have to wonder what the show would have become had it gone on for another decade. Was it so anti-late night establishment that ending now was the best possible plan?
Improvisation as Burnout
While Ferguson obviously had some writing, most of it seemed to be just basic outlines that allowed him to go off on his own comedic tangents throughout the show. It no doubt saved plenty of time in rehearsals, even if it made the show more challenging to basically invent on the spot. Because it seemed to be that way, the show would sometimes have its bad nights along with the hilariously good ones. Fans would argue that even the bad nights were still better than the scripted comedy on other late-night shows.
Despite Ferguson doing his seeming improv with ease, it no doubt was a lot of pressure that he didn’t want to continue doing for 25 years. Very few comedians can hold a show that way for even a few years let alone 10 years. Considering that Geoff Peterson (the voice of Geoff the skeleton robot) seemed to be a true master of brilliant improv, there might have been a little too much competition there. Some nights, Geoff the Robot would go off on much funnier tangents that would leave Ferguson scrambling to keep up on the same wavelength.
Yes, you also have to wonder what more that mysterious Geoff Peterson (voiced by Josh Robert Thompson) could have done on the show down the road. Considering he was just as anti-late night establishment as his comedy peer, you have to ponder if there was nowhere else to go.
Geoff the Robot as His Own Talent
It’s always worth speculating on whether CBS will go crazy inventive and let Geoff the Robot become the new host of “The Late Late Show.” Most likely, it won’t happen considering he and Ferguson were a comedy team with essential camaraderie that wouldn’t work alone. But it’s hard to imagine we won’t see Geoff’s voice, Josh Robert Thompson, on many more mainstream things considering his dead-on impersonation and improvisation skills. Previously, he’d been only known for doing voicework, some standup, and working with Howard Stern on radio.
Considering Geoff the Robot got away with saying things that no other human sidekick would ever be able to say without being fired, it was perhaps better that he didn’t go on for 20 or more years. If nothing else, let’s hope Thompson is seen in the final show, plus the duo behind the racehorse perpetually stuck in that cardboard horse stable.
The Battles with the FCC
One thing that was undeniable about Craig Ferguson’s show: It was the dirtiest late-night show on the air. You almost wish that it could have been on HBO so Ferguson could have had free reign. For many, though, it was probably funnier hearing the audio “Tootsie Fruitsie” constantly placed over the standard bleep. In fact, Ferguson’s battles with CBS censors and the FCC made the show even more entertaining and dangerous. You never knew how far Ferguson was going to take things throughout a week.
It’s also worth speculating just how much trouble the show really got into with the repeated uses of four-letter words and other uproariously salty dialogue. More recently, censors had to be on set to make sure Ferguson wouldn’t go overboard without dealing with FCC fines.
That was another aspect of Ferguson ever moving to 11:35 p.m.: He really wouldn’t have fit there without constant meddling from censors. His show was a product of the late-late hour through and through with a fun, free-for-all party for night owls. In many people’s minds, that’s what late-night TV should be all about. Whoever comes after Ferguson perhaps won’t get that and may resume all the conventions of late-night TV.
The only solution would be CBS going on a dare and letting Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” go two hours.