Craig Ferguson’s Legacy is Collateral Damage in ‘The Late Late Show’ Cancellation
It’s official: James Corden killed The Late Late Show.
More specifically, Corden’s decision to leave the late-night program once hosted by the incomparable and inconspicuous Craig Ferguson has resulted in a decision by CBS to bring three decades of The Late Late Show to an end. The network intends to fill the time slot with a revival of the Comedy Central panel show @midnight, a nerdy, internet-oriented game show first hosted by Chris Hardwick from 2013 until the show’s original conclusion in 2017. The reboot that will soon follow The Late Show will be executive produced by late-night legend Stephen Colbert with a new, unspecified master of ceremonies.
The controversial Corden will close the series as its fourth and final host, but The Late Late Show will always be associated with its greatest and most underappreciated entertainer Ferguson – and an unceremonious ending to The Late Late Show is less than his legacy deserves.
The night owls who watched The Late Late Show since Ferguson first joined the series that followed his friend and mentor David Letterman’s The Late Show in 2005 will remember vividly the weird, tonal whiplash that occurred when Ferguson handed his keys to Corden in 2014. Ferguson’s free-form approach to late-night was in stark contrast to the stiff mathematical style of his predecessor, Craig Kilborn, but the jump from Ferguson to Corden was more jarring than rolling up to an intersection and finding the Cinderella star singing in a mouse costume and thrusting his crotch at your drivers’ side window.
Ferguson’s The Late Late Show was a casual, stream-of-consciousness style show with dressed-down interviews and endless asides. On the other hand, Corden’s peppy, buzzy pop culture-worshiping series was better suited for an audience that preferred watching ninety-second clips of celebrities indulging Corden in some game show-style segment on YouTube over settling into 20-minute meandering conversations between an affable Scotsman and an artist whose guard Ferguson would wear down with shameless scorn for canned anecdotes and pre-planned softball questions.
When Ferguson was behind the desk of The Late Late Show, the time slot had a personal element that hadn’t been seen before or since – Ferguson was late-night’s humanity, and his show was a singularly intimate experience that felt like a conversation with the comedian rather than a glaring, glitzy spectacle designed by a focus group to maximize clickability. CBS’ decision to end The Late Late Show and replace it with @midnight is the ultimate result of their late-night approach shifting away from the storytellers and improvisers towards flashy production design and YouTube-friendly content.
If @midnight succeeds at CBS, Corden may be seen in retrospect as the connective tissue that transitioned the late-night format into an internet-friendly extravaganza, but the history of The Late Late Show should only ever be defined by one Scotsman and his gay robot sidekick.