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Late Night Raises The Burr

CBS's Craig Ferguson Brings Brit Wit -- and a Spot of Tea -- to the Table

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2005; Page C01


Craig Ferguson is sitting in his tidy office at CBS's Television City several hours before the taping of his nightly show (or "the shoo," as he calls it), talking about growing up in the small town of Cumbernald, just outside Glasgow, Scotland. His father knew someone over at the shipyard who'd picked up some carpet remnants from a luxury liner being assembled, and thus, Ferguson swears, his family was the first in the neighborhood to get wall-to-wall carpet.

Since he took over nine weeks ago as host on "The Late, Late Show," a post-Letterman, seldom-seen, insomniac's delight, this has been part of his shtick: He loves to go on about the exaggerated bleakness of his Scottish youth, so bad there wasn't even carpet. "I remember people came around, from the whole block, you know, just to have a look at our new carpet."

"Some nights I'll be doin' a bit, and I just really wish we could show the last night's show," Craig Ferguson, new host of CBS's "Late, Late Show," says of the hit-or-miss nature of the comedy sketches. (Kevin Winter -- Getty Images)


"No, not right now, I've got to do the shoo," Ferguson says. "But maybe later on."

(Wait a beat. He lets out a deep laugh, then mock-addresses a nonexistent camera: "We'll be right back after these messages, everybody.")

To read this story properly, you might want to use your fake Scottish accent (and you know you've got one) for the quotes where Ferguson talks. Just do it in your worst burr; think Groundskeeper Willie on "The Simpsons," James "Scotty" Doohan from "Star Trek" or Mike Myers as Fat Bastard. Such is the American pop gamut of Scots, until now.

People apparently love to listen to Craig Ferguson talk. His predecessor, Craig Kilborn, hosted for five seasons, and it was fine as far as it went, except for Kilborn's slight, bratty chilliness -- it was too frat-boy, Kilborn's detractors said. Too snide, oddly clinical.

Ferguson's show already gives off light beams of jolliness, even as you get the feeling that it's possibly a happy train wreck. In an age of snark, it's almost too retro: A good-looking man walks out, has an accent, tells some jokes, makes chitchat, introduces a band, and nobody gets hurt.

Desperate actresses especially adore him. Witness the parade of fabulously coiffed and giddy B-minusers who've done "The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson" since its debut Jan. 3 -- Jennifer Beals, Mimi Rogers, Jennifer Love Hewitt.

And on this particular night's show, ladies and gentleman, Faye Dunaway, as if she has been transported to us accidentally by time machine!

Dunaway is on to promote "Starlet," the new reality show she's appearing on, but also she is here, she will later reveal, because she's been staying up late, too, with the rest of a certain demographic: People who, perhaps through a fog of Tylenol PM, have developed a teensy, weird crush on Ferguson.

The show has become very Los Angeles in a local sense, in both vibe and casual conversation -- as if West Hollywood had gained a cable-access channel. Ferguson talks about his ex-wife (they are friendly; she runs a Pilates center and lives two doors from his house, and went with him to Clive Davis's Grammy party) and his 4-year-old son, Milo (he shares custody). Watching the shoo feels like you've bumped into him at the Farmers' Market Starbucks off Fairfax Avenue.

"I don't try to put a positive spin on things when I talk to guests, or the audience," he says. "I think that's the reason I talk about my ex-wife on the show, or being a dad, or alcoholism, to say, yes of course I'm a member of the human race and yes of course I have interactions which succeed and fail, and other than that I'm okay and I'm doing all right and this show, you know, we're not here to talk about our feelings and help you out with your [expletive], because I don't even know ya. It's TV."

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