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Craig Ferguson

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Craig Ferguson Empty Craig Ferguson

Post by Admin on Fri Dec 11, 2009 11:29 pm

How could I forget Craig?

Posted: Fri., Dec. 11, 2009, 5:08pm PT

Ferguson well suited for show
Latenight host comfortable speaking from the heart
Craig Ferguson and Desmond Tutu

UNORTHODOX: Craig Ferguson takes an idiosyncratic approach to interviews, as with Archbishop Desmond

You know, Desmond Tutu told me I was crazy when he was on the show," Craig Ferguson says impishly in his deep Scottish accent. "But he said it was the type of crazy that people need, and that made me feel like I had permission from a higher authority to do whatever I wanted to do on TV."

Even though Ferguson felt freed up by the holy man's blessing, the host of "The Late Late Show" had already created something of his own in the 12:30 p.m. timeslot by the time the archbishop appeared on his show last March.

Over the past 1,000 shows, Ferguson has both danced with puppets and talked about his struggles with alcoholism. He has given profoundly emotional eulogies for his parents and had the kinds of relaxed discussions with guests such as country singer Toby Keith that don't feel much like a structured interview at all. Ferguson wants actual conversations with his guests and is willing to be a little unorthodox to make them happen.

"I think you have to ask people the right questions," says Ferguson. "If you ask someone what it was like to work with George Clooney, that doesn't leave them anywhere to go, but, if you ask them if they've ever been drunk in Mexico and had sex with a midget, then you might get an interesting answer."

It's not just his approach to interviews that is irreverent.

Ferguson sees monologues as largely unscripted chats with his audience; he uses a prompter, just with bullet points, only for the longer pieces.

"It would be more difficult for me not to be personal," says Ferguson, who is also an author, screenwriter and musician. "It's also a real safety net, because there's no executive who can tell me how to tell it because I was the one lying in my own filth when I was drinking. So I'll tell it how I want."

Since Ferguson was a standup comic used to dealing with live audiences long before hosting "The Late Late Show," reacting to the day's events and developing jokes or monologues from that material comes naturally. For some of Ferguson's writers, working with a host who's fast on his feet means they could be hashing out ideas with him all day and have it all trumped by a last-minute development before the show tapes.

"A good example of that would be the roof-leaking monologue," says Ted Mulkerin, a head writer on the show. "We had worked on some things that day, but there was a night when the roof started leaking before we went on the air, and Craig was able to just walk right out there and talk about it for 10 minutes."

Co-head writer Jonathan Morano agrees.

"Our budget is one rung up from public access," Morano says. "That puts a lot of pressure on Craig to be able to do things without a lot of explosions, and he's always able to come through -- in part because of the skills he has from doing standup comedy."

As optimistic as any newly naturalized American and as deeply suspicious of power as you'd expect a former punk rocker to be, Ferguson marvels that he's been able to do what he has on his show without much interference.

"I had the backing of Les Moonves because he knew me and trusted me and a protected timeslot right after David Letterman," says Ferguson. "It's been the perfect storm for someone like me, and I know this kind of thing never happens. I'm very thankful."

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Craig Ferguson Empty Re: Craig Ferguson

Post by Admin on Fri Dec 11, 2009 11:36 pm

Posted: Fri., Dec. 11, 2009, 5:02pm PT
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Peter Lassally: The host whisperer
Producer backed unlikely Ferguson for the job
'American on Purpose'

WARTS AND ALL: Ferguson's memoir covers both highs and lows of his career.
Peter Lassally

CBS and David Letterman's Worldwide Pants took a leap of faith as big as any in modern television history when they chose a Scottish multihyphenate to host "The Late Late Show" five years ago.

But the Eye and Letterman did have some insurance in selecting Craig Ferguson: Peter Lassally. Lassally, the latenight producer famously dubbed "the host whisperer" by the New York Times, championed Ferguson over all the other candidates considered during the on-air audition process after Craig Kilborn ended his five-year tenure on "Late Late Show."

Lassally liked Ferguson for what he wasn't as much as for the considerable skills he brought to the table. When "Late Late Show" producer Michael Naidus brought him tapes of Ferguson's appearances on other yakkers, Lassally was immediately intrigued by his quick wit, charisma and obvious storytelling skills. Naidus had remembered how deft Ferguson was in improvising a comedy bit in an appearance with Kilborn.

There are very few people who can do anything in the environment of a talkshow that isn't written down and planned," Naidus says. "When Peter and I sat down and watched that (appearance again), we both got excited."

In the crowded latenight field, Lassally knew CBS needed something distinctive if it was going to make any inroads at 12:30 a.m. Lassally knows the terrain well, having worked on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show" for 23 years. He was instrumental in getting Letterman guest-host slots on "Tonight Show," and after NBC gave the nod to Leno upon Carson's retirement, Lassally helped orchestrate Letterman's move to CBS and 11:30 in 1993.

Ferguson's background was as different as could be from that of most latenight hosts. He was known to U.S. viewers as a supporting player on ABC's "The Drew Carey Show," but his resume includes stints as a standup comic, rock 'n' roll drummer, bartender, construction worker and writer in various media: screenplays, novels, music and, most recently, a bestselling memoir. As Lassally got to know Ferguson, the producer became convinced that his find was destined for latenight greatness.

Every night I sit in the control room and think, 'How does he do it?," Lassally asks.

Lassally's conviction about Ferguson's potential overcame the initial skepticism at CBS and in Letterman's camp. Ferguson's natural charisma did the rest. "I brought Craig into six people's offices separately at CBS. He was like a politician on a campaign, and he charmed every one of them immediately," Lassally recalls.

Lassally credits CBS chief Leslie Moonves with making the gutsy call to back his vision for "Late Late Show." He made it clear to the Eye boss that he saw the show as big-tent entertainment rather than targeting a narrow young demo.

I said, 'Please don't make me go for the 20-year-old audience,' " Lassally says. "I told him that Craig would give him the full audience of all ages and sexes. I told him that if he wanted to get the 18-34 audience, I didn't think Craig was the right man. Les, to his credit, said, 'You got it.'"

As with any new show, Ferguson's first few months on the air were a little rocky. It was clear early on that the standard-issue joke-packed monologue was not a fit with his skills as raconteur. Lassally believes Ferguson began to find his footing just a few weeks into his run, on the seg that ran the day after Carson's death Jan. 23, 2005. Lassally urged Ferguson to speak from the heart about what Carson meant to him, not only as a host but also as a newcomer to the U.S.

Craig said that even though he was in this great big country that kind of frightened him, Johnny Carson made him feel like it was a small town," Lassally recalls. "That was incredible television. That was a man opening himself up and speaking from his heart."

From then on, the monologue and the show were tailored to Ferguson's skills. Lassally says he's most impressed by the unpredictability and joyfulness Ferguson brings to the show every night, starting with the cold open. Only Ferguson knows what he's going to say or do in that segment -- and it's usually off the cuff the minute the red light on the camera goes on.

Everything that you would say is now a trademark of the show is the result of us taking some standard talkshow piece and smashing it to bits," Naidus says with delight.

Of all the advice and counsel Lassally gave Ferguson in the early days, he was wrong on one key point. He cautioned Ferguson that success in latenight is a slow build, and that it would take a minimum of five years to gain traction against the competish. The Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien/Jimmy Fallon shuffle on NBC has only made more people sample Ferguson, and clearly, a lot of them like what they've seen.

These are certainly exciting times for us to live in," Lassally says with a grin.

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