Craig Ferguson's Late Night "Experiment" Should Be Done More Often
by Danny Gallagher, posted Feb 26th 2010 7:04PM
If you tuned into Tuesday night's 'Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,' you might have found yourself questioning if there was something wrong with your hearing, your brand new surround sound speaker system, or both.
Nothing was wrong, though. The show didn't have a monologue. It didn't have any pre-planned comedy bits or hand puppets talking about Lindsey Lohan's latest coke binge. It didn't even have an audience.
The entire hour just featured two guys sitting in two chairs talking about anything and everything all at once. It was the most normal hour of late night television I've seen, despite the fact that both of them were taking an occasional sip of water from angry rattlesnakes.
The "experiment," as Craig explained it at the top of the show, was inspired by all of the recent brewhahas over NBC's late night lineup. He hoped to hark back to a simpler time in late night when a talk show did exactly that before Johnny Carson transformed the entire medium into the photocopied format it is today.
Craig's show is the perfect one to attempt such a feat because Tom Snyder's version of 'The Late Late Show' had this exact format (as did his 'Tomorrow' show and Bob Costas' version of 'Later,' both on NBC) and Craig's been known to stretch the boundaries of traditional late night talk formats. If an alligator puppet took the anchor chair of ABC's 'Nightline,' the letter avalanche would turn the ABC studios into a natural disaster declaration.
Craig dispatched actor, humorist and author Stephen Fry to play the "little white mouse" in his television experiment and he's the perfect test subject for just such a science project. He's a person who could talk for hours and make you hang on his every word from the stories and experiences he's had and use his wit and charm as verbal tinsel to keep you living in the moment.
It really wouldn't have worked with any other subject since you have to fill an entire conversation with words and can't stop to take a breath while the audience is yukking it up. Imagine if Craig had Paris Hilton in the chair without a net. Such a moment could suck so hard that there wouldn't be any oxygen left in the room.
The most noticeable difference is the lack of a live audience. It completely changes not just the nature of the conversation, but it's tone and demeanor. It's much more laid back and comfortable and the need to match the comedy with the conversation isn't there, so the host and the guest feel more free to just throw a topic or an idea on the table and see how it sticks. You get an entire buffet of emotion from funny to happy and sad, which only appear on talk shows in extreme doses for notable events or just general zaniness.
It does lose some of its comedic value since the audience isn't there to bounce off the conversation, but the trick is finding new ways to do comedy in a much subtler lever and Craig knows how to produce comedy on just about every plain. As evidenced by Tuesday's show and just about every other show he's done, he can be genuine and real and find ways to make it funny in a way that's funny only to the people in the conversation. It's still entertaining to watch and experience.
The whole episode felt more organic. Great conversations don't take place when other people are watching them. They happen in the moment when the only people involved are the ones involved in the discussion. It felt real. Imagine such a concept on television. Something that's really real. Something that just about all of TV seems to be lacking no matter how much they would like us to believe it is.