We now resume our regular programming.
Among the things to catch up on here at TV Feeds My Family are some tales from my trip to Los Angeles late last month. One of the highlights was a visit to the set of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. This was especially interesting coming exactly two weeks after dropping in on a Late Night with Conan O'Brien taping in New York. The two late night rivals put on very different shows, but it was as much the experience getting in and out of them that set up the differences. I wrote about the comparison last week for The Canadian Press. You can find that article here at Canoe's Jam! Television site.
There is a lot happening in late night in the next 12 months and the pressure seems to be tilting toward O'Brien in New York. He's gearing up for that Tonight Show coronation and you can feel the heat in Studio 6H in Manhattan. O'Brien does his best to keep things loose, bantering with the crowd before and after the show, going for the same spontaneity he fearlessly explored during those crazy writers strike weeks. Still, as much as he still plays to the college crowd, Late Night seemed more tweaked, more focused and precise, less silly than in previous visits (although, having said that, there was that bit where they wheeled Abe Vigoda out in a tub full of ice).
Ferguson's show, on the other hand, seemed as warm and breezy and pressure free as Lake Huron in July. First you have to warm up to Ferguson's warm up guy, the well named "Chunky B," who hits you with lines like, "I've been married for ten years but it seems like only five minutes--under water." Chunky had to work it at our taping, trotting out all the chestnuts. After flirting with a girl in the front row names Samantha, he started hitting on her sister, Monica. "Knock knock," says Chunk B. "Who's there?" says Monica. "Samantha." "Samantha who?" "That's what I'm saying now," says Chunky B.
Guess you had to be there. Anyway, Ferguson strides out to tremendous (and, as he notes, well prompted) applause, oozes charm, and stays just as playful throughout the fast hour at the desk. He's a delight in person, and I'm not just saying that because I'm desperately trying to land an interview for an upcoming book. He just owns that intimate, 113-seat studio deep within the CBS Television City broadcast bunker. The atmosphere is causal and relaxed, and that starts right at the front door and extends into a cozy little VIP lounge by the sound stage. There invited guests (and press weasels lucky enough to snag an invitation) can enjoy drinks at the bar and plenty of snacks while watching Late Late Show musical clips on a giant plasma screen. On the wall is a pop art portrait of Ferguson as well as the Scot's family crest and tartan. Aye, hoot mon!
[Memo to the Conan team building O'Brien a brand new studio on the NBC Burbank lot for when he takes over Tonight in 2009: go for the VIP lounge and invite me to inspect it later.]
Anyway, a Ferguson taping is a jolly good time while in L.A. "I KNOW!" as he often says during his monologues, as if he was surprised to hear it himself. The man is on a roll and it shows, having scored at this year's Washington press correspondent's dinner, obtaining his American citizenship and finally (albeit for one week only) overtaking O'Brien in the ratings.
An added bonus when I sat in was the extended taping session after the show, with the host at his desk banking some promo clips for future shows and other events. Ferguson would blurt out, "With your host, Craig Ferguson," or whatever but then throw in a gratuitous string of obscenities just to get a laff from the studio audience. He's a silly bugger, that Craig, and damn his show is a good time live.