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Next Volleys in Late-Night Wars About to Be Fired: Jimmy Fallon Opens Strong, But Craig Ferguson Is Tutu Good
February 24, 2009  | By David Bianculli

conan-finale.jpgLast Friday, Conan O'Brien said goodbye to his New York venue and long-running NBC Late Night talk show, preparing for a fall move to take over The Tonight Show. Next Monday, Jimmy Fallon takes O'Brien's slot, and both he and tenured CBS competitor Craig Ferguson are taking the opportunity to define the viewers they're after, and the shows they intend to be. Even with all of Lorne Michael's muscle behind Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the folks at The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson have made the smartest, boldest, most identity-defining guest booking of the week...

Next Wednesday, Ferguson's scheduled guest is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Expect the interview to be expanded to most if not all of the show, the way Jack Paar and Steve Allen used to do with very special guests on The Tonight Show.


Expect, more than that, a fascinating, free-ranging, compelling conversation. Ferguson conducts a different kind of interview than anyone on TV right now, and the Nobel Prize winner is the perfect kind of guest to demonstrate that range. There will be laughs, to be sure, and some astoundingly unexpected digressions. But there also will be serious talk, and probing questions.

And at some point in the interview, I can all but guarantee that Desmond Tutu will look at Craig, widen his eyes, smile and pay a new, enhanced kind of attention, as if to say, "Who IS this guy? Where AM I? And how much fun is THIS?"

Most of Ferguson's guests, sooner or later, experience and display that epiphany. Usually sooner than later.

Fallon's opening-night Late Night guests include Robert De Niro, while Ferguson counters with Paris Hilton, whom he's had on before, and charmed. Tuesday, Fallon has a distinct advantage: He gets his old Saturday Night Live "Weekend Update" cohort Tina Fey, an obvious yet impressive, compelling booking. Ferguson, that night, has Kristin Davis and Wolfgang Puck.

Because of opening-day interest and Fey Fever, Fallon is likely to win big on those first two nights.


Wednesday, Fallon features Cameron Diaz and Billy Crudup, while Ferguson has Tutu. No matter what the ratings are or the demographics, that study in contrasts alone gives Ferguson the edge, and the advantage, on opening week. No booking is more unusual, more noteworthy, and thus in the long run more attention-getting and defining, than Bishop Tutu.

The rest of the week, with such guests as Donald Trump and Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon wins the celebrity battle, and is likely to win the viewership battle for this opening head-to-head face-off. He's got all week to make a good first impression -- but Ferguson, by countering with a loud statement about how different his own show is, and will continue to be, makes the impression likely to prove the most lasting.




Jim said:

I wish Ferguson would do more long-form interviews with one guest that you actually would want to hear from instead of two guests each with 10-minute segments where Ferguson and the guest basically trade a couple japes and cut to a commercial. But I look forward to Ferguson and Tutu.

Comment posted on February 25, 2009 1:42 PM

tponzo said:

The Ferguson/Tutu interview was fantastic. I only regret that it was on so late and a lot of people didn't see it. I am trying to find a video of the entire interview. So far just finding clips. Too bad. It's worth a second or even third look and worth forwarding to anyone who missed it.

Comment posted on March 6, 2009 2:28 PM
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