‘Late Late’ Retooling for Ferguson’s Debut

Jan 3, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Chris Isaak and the languorous guitar licks of his “Late Late Show” theme are out. A theme that owes a lot to the early Beatles and the Electric Light Orchestra is in as Craig Ferguson officially succeeds Craig Kilborn at 12:37 a.m. Jan. 4 as host of the show that follows “Late Show With David Letterman” on CBS.

“I would say it’s jaunty. I would say it’s cheeky. And we’re going to experiment for now by doing it with lyrics,” said “Late Late” executive producer Todd Yasui. The new theme was written by Tim Mosher, a punk musician turned TV theme writer (“Bubba and Ike”).

It was recorded last week, between quick tweaks of the “Late Late” set, which will lose the “Playboy After Dark” aesthetic that played to Mr. Kilborn’s conceit that he is a ladies’ man. Mr. Yasui also oversaw the assemblage of a temporary opening-credits sequence for “Late Late,” produced by Mr. Letterman’s Worldwide Pants.

Most important, Mr. Yasui and the “Late Late” staff banked a handful of comedy pieces designed to help introduce Mr. Ferguson as a man capable of broadening the conversation and comedy of “Late Late.” The Scottish-born host, 42, is best known on these TV shores as the wacky boss on “The Drew Carey Show.”

“Late Late” increased its audience by 4 percent after Mr. Kilborn’s exit and Mr. Yasui said it may give NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” a more spirited run for the funny.

“On Monday what we hope they see is a really, really funny host. We haven’t spent an inordinate amount of time concerning ourselves with the cosmetics. I think that most of the first two nights it’s important to kind of establish who Craig is, his background. You’ll see some pieces that reflect where he’s come from,” Mr. Yasui said.

Mr. Ferguson is a likable and comedically limber actor-writer-producer-director-raconteur who will tailor the “Late Late Show” space to accommodate the frequent behind-the-scenes presence of Milo, the 3-year-old son whose custody he shares.

Some of the introductory comedy from his first “Late Late” nights will be derived from his interactions with his ex-wife, mother and therapist and from the fact that most hosts in this daypart have some kind of sidekick, whereas “Late Late” traditionally doesn’t even have a house band.

It’s unclear whether mention will be made of Mr. Ferguson’s red-and-white railroad-themed “lucky underpants.” They were presented to him by actor pals David Thewlis and Anna Friel six months ago.

Since then, with the help of bits that included his Scottish Elvis audition and a dress-up Friday show, he unexpectedly broke out of the pack of guest hosts jockeying for the seat Mr. Kilborn occupied for five years before abruptly leaving “Late Late” at summer’s end.

Mr. Ferguson showed he could trade quips with new boss (and role model) Mr. Letterman in late December, when he found himself trailing the beautiful Cate Blanchett from one New York talk show to another.

Mr. Ferguson’s grin, equal parts lascivious and boyish, makes clear that he could not ask for better luck.