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CBS Names New Host for 'The Late Late Show'

December 08, 2004|Lynn Smith And Scott Collins | Times Staff Writers

CBS has turned to a fresh face — and fresh voice -- in Glasgow, Scotland-born actor Craig Ferguson, named Tuesday to replace Craig Kilborn as host of "The Late Late Show."

Ferguson, 42, a musician and screenwriter with a thick burr, won out over three finalists -- stand-up comic D.L. Hughley, MTV host Damien Fahey and VH1 regular Michael Ian Black. All four were among several candidates invited for on-air tryouts after Kilborn left the show in August.

"We were looking for something that would be considered an inspired choice, something a little bit different than you see on other shows," said executive producer Todd Yasui.

Ferguson's selection comes as CBS' "The Late Show with David Letterman" is making ratings headway against "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

When "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" debuts in the U.S. on Monday, Jan. 3 (12:35-1:35 a.m.), its biggest rival will remain NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." O'Brien was named this year to replace Leno when he retires in 2009.

Late-night television is increasingly important for the networks because it attracts the kind of young audience advertisers are trying to reach. And over the last year, the networks have been trying to lock down available talent. The early morning slot, where Letterman and O'Brien started, has been a proving ground for hosts who move on to the crucial entertainment slot after late local news.

Considered a surprising choice, Ferguson has an irreverent sense of humor tinged with silliness and a broad understanding of current events, Yasui said. Ferguson is best known in the U.S. for his role as boss Nigel Wick on the comedy series "The Drew Carey Show."

Though he has no experience hosting talk shows, Ferguson is widely recognized in Britain as a comic. The entertainer wrote and starred in the 2000 film "Saving Grace," a story about a marijuana gardener who goes into business with a bankrupt widow. He also played a Scottish hairdresser in "The Big Tease," and directed the 2003 film "I'll Be There," in which he played a pop star.

"Craig is a smart, funny and versatile personality who we feel can build a following on late-night television," said Rob Burnett, president and chief executive of Worldwide Pants Inc., which owns "The Late Late Show" and "The Late Show with David Letterman."

Interviewed by phone while driving back from Vancouver, Canada, where he was shooting a television show, "Life As We Know It," in which he plays Kelly Osborne's father, Ferguson said he knew he wanted the job after 30 seconds in the host's chair.

"It was extremely addictive," he said. "In late-night TV, you don't get a new host coming along very often. I like the attention. I'm a hopelessly self-centered individual like everyone else in show business."

Ferguson inherits a show that has been trailing O'Brien but that regularly wins more viewers than ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," which starts at 12:05 a.m.

Robert Morton, former executive producer of NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman," said "NBC has really been dominant ... [but] with a lead-in like Letterman, there's no reason the [CBS] show can't be successful."

Because there is little training ground for late-night talk show hosts, the floodgates of hopefuls opened when Kilborn left.

"Every agent and manager in town called at one point to suggest a client for this show," Yasui said.

Hundreds of applicants were winnowed down to 25 who appeared as guest hosts throughout the fall. In November, the four finalists emerged.

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