Craig Ferguson just announced he’ll step down as host of CBS’s The Late Late Show in December, completing a decade on the job. The Scottish-born American comedian pulled a Dave Letterman, breaking the widely expected news Monday evening at a taping of his show in Los Angeles. “CBS and I are not getting divorced, we are ‘consciously uncoupling,’” Ferguson quipped. “We will still spend holidays together and share custody of the fake horse and robot skeleton, both of whom we love very much.” Ferguson’s deal with CBS was set to expire in June, but an industry source familiar with the situation tells Vulture that Ferguson and the network worked out a six-month extension to allow the host to say a proper farewell to the show. While some industry insiders have been speculating CBS might decide to replace Ferguson with repeats of an existing show, we now hear the plan is to keep Late Late Show in place and find a replacement host who’ll be ready to take over early in 2015. (No, it won’t be Chelsea Handler. Stop that already!)
The announcement by Ferguson caps months of speculation about his fate. Even before Letterman said he was quitting, there’d been talk Ferguson was ready to walk if he didn’t get Dave’s timeslot. When that became official following Stephen Colbert’s signing, the only question was whether Ferguson would change his mind or stay put. CBS insiders have suggested all along that they were happy to have Ferguson stay put, though it seems unlikely the network pushed too hard to get him to stay. While Ferguson’s show has drawn lots of critical praise (it’s smart and adult), ratings have been tiny and it wouldn’t make sense for the Eye to break open its safe to give Ferguson a huge raise to make up for his being passed over for the 11:35 p.m. gig. We’ve also heard that, given his chops as a comic/actor/host, Ferguson may have just decided it didn’t make sense to spend another decade toiling in the wee hours of the morning for such a relatively small audience. As it is, he’s already lined up a gig hosting the syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game, set to launch this fall.
Tonight’s news will, of course, set off another round of speculation about who might replace another vacated late-night chair, this time Ferguson’s. Many fingers will be crossed hoping for someone who doesn’t look exactly like all the other hosts seen in late night (middle-aged white guys) — though there are plenty of talented folks in that camp, too (including Joel McHale, who’s hosting this weekend’s White House Correspondents Dinner). CBS tends to be pretty smart about, well, everything (save for its cancellation of Swingtown a few years back, which some of us will never, ever stop holding against it). We’re pretty sure whoever it taps for the job will work out just fine. And if she or he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter all that much: Profits in late-night are way down, and the 12:35 a.m. timeslot is hardly critical to any network’s future.
Ferguson made his debut as Late Late Show host back in January 2005, and he’ll have had the gig longer than the past two hosts combined. TV icon Tom Snyder launched the show in 1995, tapped by then-producer David Letterman to serve as a companion to Dave’s 11:35 p.m. effort. Snyder’s hour was a throwback to his old NBC show Tomorrow, with lots of in-depth conversation and an almost radio-show feel. Snyder exited in 1999, replaced by the snarky Craig Kilborn, who made the show a bit more comedic. None of the three version of Late Late Show have had bands or sidekick announcers (though Ferguson eventually brought in the aforementioned fake robot to help him host).