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October 13, 2015

Craig Ferguson's Late Night "Experiment" Should Be Done More Often

by Danny Gallagher, posted Feb 26th 2010 7:04PM
Craig Ferguson
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.

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I hope this experiment is repeated. I could definitely see this as a once a week-type deal.

February 28 2010 at 8:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've been in love with Fry for years, and have fallen in love w/ Ferguson more recently, so I was really looking forward to it, and it didn't disappoint. I was especially pleased with how much deep philosophy (and poetry) worked its way into the conversation.
That said, I did feel that Ferguson was very self-conscious through most of it. I felt it was caused by the lack of audience; my husband wondered if he was intimidated by Fry despite their history together. At any rate, it annoyed me that he kept seeming to apologize for/worry about the different format. Also, I love his show the way it is. I think he does an amazing job as the "wacky-goofy-it's-so-late-no-one-cares" kind of talk show host he plays every night. His regular interviews are funny and charming no matter who he's talking to. I agree with whoever said it might be a neat thing for him to do once a month or so (especially if he gets more comfortable at it), but I have rarely felt more relaxed and relieved as I did when I tuned in the next night and got to hear that awesome "Check Ze Tweets" jingle again.

February 27 2010 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I loved this experiment by Ferguson. He's the only guy who could pull this off for an hour. I do hope he tries to use this format every month or so with a particular guest who warrants such attention. As much as I love Kristen Bell...I don't think she could sustain an hour. I do think his upcoming interview with the moral philosopher Jonathan Dancy could be just the one to dust off the 1-on-1 format with on April 1. Just a thought, Craig...

February 27 2010 at 11:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd love to see more of these, maybe once per month or so with a particularly interesting guest? He could make a habit of giving out rattlesnake mugs as a trophy for participation as well!

February 27 2010 at 10:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think this would work on occasion, like with Parker Posey or Kristen Bell. Or just an episode with the three of those talking about nothing. It would be adorable and hilarious.

February 27 2010 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sean's comment


February 27 2010 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air."

Miss you, Tom Snyder!

February 27 2010 at 7:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Steve Ungrey

This won't work on a regular basis. He's just too freewheeling to limit himself in this format. Having said that, two things: First, ditch the warm-up guy telling the audience to laugh. Craig has no trouble getting the audience to do that on their own. Second, something like this would work once in a while with a longer-form guest. I'd have loved to see an hour with Tarantino, for example...

February 27 2010 at 2:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tom Snyder anyone? Good grief this is what his entire show was...

February 27 2010 at 1:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to YouFaceTheTick's comment

Wow, uh...way to read the freaking article buddy.

February 27 2010 at 4:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This episode was great, though partially because Fry is incredible.

"Kevin Pollak Chat Show" is definitely a good recommendation if you enjoyed the hour of Craig and Stephen chatting. His show is wonderful if you want to just enjoy a good conversation with entertaining folks.

February 27 2010 at 12:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought it was quite similar to what Tavis Smiley and Charlie Rose do on PBS - nice to see this happen on commercial television for a change. I also think Craig Ferguson's involvement was essential to the success of this "experimental" show, however - i.e., not sure Dave, Conan, Jay, or any of the others could have made it work. They are all talented, but Craig Ferguson is a step above, IMO.

February 26 2010 at 9:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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