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Craig Ferguson and the Art of the Exit
December 22, 2014  | By Bill Brioux  | 6 comments

“Keep banging on your drum/And your day will come.”

Craig Ferguson, sporting a liberated, Mohawk-y ‘do, stood on his anchor desk and left us with a joyous, Proclaimers-like, jump-up-and-dance anthem. Would that CBS had given him a band ages ago, that was a stompin’ good way to go out.

Ferguson spent 10 years in late night, longer than anybody but Letterman in a 12:35 network slot. He served up puppetry and performance art, a show that hung on his mood like nobody since Jack Paar. It was quite the high wire act, an almost defiant hour in a late night genre that thrives on same old conventions. He delivered one last, very live monologue, speaking, as always, straight from the gut. He has such a way of drawing you in with those knowing looks. Who are we supposed to co-conspire with now?

It was very cool to see Desmond Tutu, Regis Philbin, Matthew McConaughey, a very pregnant Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, Tim Meadows, The Fonz, Shatner, Jon Hamm, Steve Carell, Jane Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Larry King, Sam Jackson, Betty White, Jack Black, Weird Al, hell, even Jimmy Kimmel, all in on the drum beat.

The drums beat seamlessly into the studio. Ferguson ripped off a few last cuss words covered by colorful flags. We got a final glimpse of Ferguson’s long-suffering producer Michael Naidus, steering it all into that magic window out of Television City.

Ferguson’s one guest was Jay Leno. Huh. Leno as guest, Kimmel on drums, no mention whatsoever of Craigy’s boss, David Letterman. Interesting.

Leno thanked Ferguson for not piling on back when everybody was doing it. Leno’s mother was born in Scotland, as was Craig’s, as was mine, come to think of it. Don’t know what that means, besides we’ve all probably had it with stew.

Typical of Ferguson, however, to deflect the finale spotlight with a nod to a comedy colleague and a network rival. It was curious and interesting, a bit like two football captains meeting a decade later in the pub.

The host thanked his “one” crewmember, CBS, the studio staff, the audience. Besides Letterman, he did not publicly mention CBS CEO Leslie Moonves or his executive producer Peter Lassally, the wise Yoda of late night who had a hand in the careers of both Johnny Carson and Letterman as a producer.

Friday night was a farewell to late night for Lassally, too, a man who worked the late shift longer than anybody. Lassally, 81, dates back to the 1950s when he worked as a page at Rockefeller Center, earning his first producer’s cred with Arthur Godfrey. A real gentleman and a wonderful interview, he was always the guy behind the scenes until right before Carson's passing. It was Lassally who came on Letterman and eased everybody into the notion that Carson’s time was truly up.

SPOILER ALERT: Ferguson went out with a beautiful bit of madness. After telling skeleton sidekick Geoff he probably learned nothing the past ten years in late night, the scene dissolved into a daffy dream sequence. Secretariat pulls of his head to reveal Bob Newhart under the front half of that costume. Cut to Craigy in bed with his old sitcom pal Drew Carey in a nod to Newhart‘s best-ever finale. There’s a pan over to a night table with a snow globe on it featuring miniature likenesses of Craigy, the horse and the skeleton. Damn, it’s a salute to another fondly remembered TV finale, that of St. Elsewhere. “Don’t Stop Believin'” fades in, and then everything suddenly cuts to black -- It’s a Sopranos full stop, a TV triple play. (See Eric Gould's Video Worth Watching for the last few minutes of the last Late Late Show.)

Dammit, Craigy you old softhearted fraud, you really, really love television. Miss you already.

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This is excellent article, thank you for the share! This is what I am looking for, hope in future you will continue sharing such an superb work.
Mar 4, 2024   |  Reply
Dawn pecora
Opening song was "Bang Your Drum” by Glasgow group Dead Man Fall.
Aug 12, 2023   |  Reply
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Jan 19, 2023   |  Reply
Craig Ferguson's exit from television was totally better then Colbert's. I agree with Mac that sometimes I just tuned in just to laugh until I cried so I could forget what was bothering me from the day. Nothing else in that time slot could do that. Only Craig Ferguson. I was lucky enough to see the show live twice, and it was an awesome show put together by dedicated people who love to make people laugh. Congratulations on a job well done Craig.
Dec 23, 2014   |  Reply
Comparing Ferguson's exit to Colbert's is so unfair.For me,a second shift worker whose TV watching begins @ 11:00PM,in a 24 hour period I lost the two reasons to keep the tube on past 11:30(Stewart's show).Both Colbert & Ferguson brought different casserole's to the pot luck of my brain after 8 hours of blue collar stupidity.Sometimes pulling the pants down on Fox News and the stupid spin of the day's events were needed.Sometimes I needed a cussing bunny,a pantomine horse with a cocaine habit,a gay robot skeleton and the ringleader in the middle,now leaving,telling me that if I bang my drum long enough,somehow I will keep sane.It was needed so much I nod a bit to Craig for not just parodying a TV genre,but deconstructing it so that up looked like down,as much as my work life does.Not a mean feat.On network TV.
Well,at least no more promos for Comics Unleashed,the truly anti-Craig mess that our local affiliate thorws up after 12:30.Just saw that Vince is preaching Life After Shamwow.
Dec 23, 2014   |  Reply
Stephen Truhon
It is unfair to make comparisons. Both finales were consistent with their hosts and satisfying. Colbert is much more musical-comedy; Ferguson is edgier rock-n-roll. I like both styles. I will miss them both but they went out with flair!
Jan 4, 2015
Well said Mac.
Dec 23, 2014
Still not as good as Stephen Colbert's
Dec 23, 2014   |  Reply
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