‘Late Late’s’ Live Live Wire

Jan 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

When The Insider wished “TV’s Craig Ferguson”-as he introduces himself to the viewers he calls his “cheeky wee monkeys” every weeknight-a happy new year last week, she was well aware that he had an extremely felicitous year-his first as host of “The Late Late Show” on CBS. And he’ll get 2006 off to a big start tomorrow when he hosts two live shows on one night: “The 32nd Annual People’s Choice Awards” from 6 to 8 p.m. (PT) and a live edition of his own show at 12:35 a.m.

He’ll have a police escort to make sure he gets from the Shrine Auditorium to the “Late Late” studio at CBS Television City on time.

The Insider can hardly wait for Mr. Ferguson’s “Late Late” monologue that will deal with the subject of his biggest prime-time outing since playing wacky Nigel Wick on “The Drew Carey Show.”

At the urging of “Late Late” executive producer Peter Lassally, whose long career includes working with the late Johnny Carson and David Letterman, the monologue evolved from a handful of jokes any late-night staff could have written and any late-night comic could have told into a death-defying quarter-hour that’s part crazy quilt, part elegantly closed full circle.

“I kept saying to him, ‘I want you to try to talk to one person in the audience at home,'” Mr. Lassally said.

Mr. Ferguson, who figures he does 90 percent of the work on the monologue, starts out knowing where he will end up and then on stage has to work his way from beginning to end with only a few bullet points as his guide.

“It hangs over us all until we finish it, “said the Scotsman, who is preparing to become an American citizen.

His inspirations for the monologues range from current events to his own life (bloggers track what he’s shared about everything from his blown marriages to his adventures before and after sobering up more than a decade ago).

He returned from the holidays with a well-embroidered account of his Dickensian childhood Christmases, in which he touched on everything from his father’s seasonal drinking habits to why he thinks of tangerines and chocolate whenever he comes in contact with feet. He also ragged on Queen Elizabeth’s traditional Christmas address to her subjects.

“I do 15 minutes a night out here and she does five minutes a year, and she gets more than I do, you know that,” he said.

But when Mr. Ferguson makes the audience laugh, it’s laughing with him, not at him, which her majesty cannot count on.

“The Late Late Show,” which has consciously broadened its audience-women welcome, frat boys allowed but not worshipped-ended 2005 by attracting the biggest fourth-quarter audience (an average 1.93 million viewers, up 9 percent year to year) since “Late Late” launched in 1995 with Tom Snyder as host.

If all goes well for Mr. Ferguson as the “People’s Choice” host-Mr. Lassally said to him that this time, “You are the guest host. It is not your own show. Don’t get too hyped up and overenthusiastic”-millions will follow him to his home base.

The Insider wishes him well but will continue to remind Mr. Ferguson that she extracted from him a mock-solemn promise that he would not turn into a flaming a**hole. “Sorry about that,” he said with no mock solemnity at all last week.