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The late night talk show world can be a vicious and cutthroat environment. When Conan O’Brien was asked to take a step back for Jay Leno, he left town. When David Letterman didn’t get Johnny Carson’s job, he did the same thing. So when Craig Ferguson announced he was leaving The Late Late Show shortly after Stephen Colbert was announced as Letterman’s replacement, many assumed the two items were related. But were they? According to Ferguson, fuck no.
It used to enrage me when I was doing the show that people would assume I was trying to get the 11:30 p.m. show that came on before it. Why the fuck would I want do that? To this day people don’t believe that I left because I didn’t get the show. It’s horseshit.
Ferguson holds little back speaking to The Daily Beast about his decision to leave CBS after 10 years. According to him, he was never angling for the earlier time slot. While Ferguson has nothing but positive things to say about his time with the show, you also get the distinct impression that he’s glad to be doing something else for a change. He’s currently hosting the syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game and has a new stand-up special Just Being Honest about to premier with EPIX.
Ferguson’s show was very different from anything else in late night television. He regularly shared the stage with an effeminate robot and a pantomime horse. He once turned an entire episode into a wake for his father. He gave a monologue on the history of his own sobriety. It’s hard to believe Ferguson would have been able to get away with such things in the more-watched 11:30 pm time slot. This may come much closer to explaining Ferguson’s exit. “Late Night TV” is a special class of television that it seems like Ferguson was never comfortable being grouped into.
You see one of the major things that I got weary of in late-night was being part of a gang I didn’t want to be a part of. They’re all a great group of guys — nothing against them! — I just didn’t join that band. I felt… pigeonholed is too strong a word. But I felt that I wanted to do something different.
In his 2009 memoir American on Purpose, Ferguson says more than once, “between safety and adventure, I choose adventure.” While hosting The Late Show certainly would have been an adventure, it doesn’t look like it was the one Ferguson wanted. It’s one he’d already been on for a decade. Meanwhile, The Late Late Show is now being hosted by James Corden.