Craig Ferguson and the art of the exit

“Keep banging on your drum/And your day will come.”

Craig Ferguson, sporting a liberated, Mohawk-y ‘do, stood on his anchor desk and left us with a joyous, Proclaimers-like, jump-up-and-dance anthem. Would that CBS had given him a band ages ago, that was a stompin’ good way to go out.

Ferguson spent 10 years in late night, close to the runs of both David Letterman and Conan O’Brien in a 12:35 network slot. He served up puppetry and performance art, a show that hung on his mood like nobody since Jack Paar. It was quite the high wire act, an almost defiant hour in a late night genre that thrives on same old conventions. He delivered one last, very live monologue, speaking, as always, straight from the gut. He has such a way of drawing you in with those knowing looks. Who are we supposed to co-conspire with now?

It was very cool to see Desmond Tutu, Regis Philbin, Matthew McConaughey, a very pregnant Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, Tim Meadows, The Fonz, Shatner, Jon Hamm, Steve Carell, Jane Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Larry King, Sam Jackson, Betty White, Jack Black, Weird Al, hell, even Jimmy Kimmel, all in on the drum beat.

The drums beat seamlessly into the studio. Ferguson ripped off a few last cuss words covered by colourful flags. We got a final glimpse of Ferguson’s long-suffering producer Michael Naidus, steering it all into that magic window out of Television City.

Ferguson’s one guest was Jay Leno. Huh. Leno as guest, Kimmel on drums, no mention whatsoever of Craigy’s boss, David Letterman. Interesting.

Leno thanked Ferguson for not piling on back when everybody was doing it. Leno’s mother was born in Scotland, as was Craig’s, as was mine come to think of it. Don’t know what that means besides we’ve all probably had it with stew.

Typical of Ferguson, however, to deflect the finale spotlight with a nod to a comedy colleague and a network rival. It was curious and interesting, a bit like two football captains meeting a decade later in the pub.

The host thanked his “one” crew member, CBS, the studio staff, the audience. Besides Letterman, he did not publicly mention CBS CEO Leslie Moonves or his executive producer Peter Lassally, the wise Yoda of late night who had a hand in the careers of both Johnny Carson and Letterman as a producer.

Friday night was a farewell to late night for Lassally, too, a man who worked the late shift longer than anybody. Lassally, 81, dates back to the 1950s when he worked as a page at Rockefeller Center, earning his first producer’s cred with Arthur Godfrey. A real gentleman and a wonderful interview, he was always the guy behind the scenes until right before Carson’s passing. It was Lassally who came on Letterman and eased everybody into the notion that Carson’s time was truly up.

SPOILER ALERT: Ferguson went out with a beautiful bit of madness. After telling skeleton sidekick Geoff he probably learned nothing the past ten years in late night, the scene dissolved into a daffy dream sequence. Secretariat pulls of his head to reveal Bob Newhart under the front half of that costume. Cut to Craigy in bed with his old sitcom pal Drew Carey in a nod to Newhart‘s best-ever finale. There’s a pan over to a night table with a snow globe on it  featuring miniature likenesses of Craigy, the horse and the skeleton. Damn, it’s a salute to another fondly-remembered TV finale, that of St. Elswhere. “Don’t Stop Believin'” fades in, and then everything suddenly cuts to black–It’s a Sopranos full stop, a TV triple play.

Dammit, Craigy you old soft-hearted fraud, you really, really love television. Miss you already.

6 Responses to “Craig Ferguson and the art of the exit”

  1. What’s the deal between Letterman and Ferguson? I’ve read that Letterman’s comments about Ferguson leaving a few months ago were perfunctory. I’ve read that despite the fact that Worldwide Pants owned the show, Letterman either didn’t care, or had grown not to care, too much about Ferguson. Did they have some kind of falling out? Or was Craig deconstructing the format of Dave’s beloved Johnny too much?

    Reply
    • Letterman never cared that much about what/who was on after him. He was busy doing his own show.

      Reply
  2. Re: “Ferguson spent 10 years in late night, longer than anybody but Letterman in a 12:35 network slot.”
    Late Night with Conan O’Brien ran from 1993 through 2009 in that time slot on NBC, after he replaced Letterman there.

    Reply

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