Absent, or maybe just ignored, among all the words committed to The Tonight Show plan for succession has been a discussion about what will happen to The Late Show with David Letterman and its lead-out The Late Late Show. Like Jay Leno, Dave has been at this game a long, long time. Unlike Jay, Dave seems to not care about ratings (possibly because he knows he’s likely to lose), does not appear to be that concerned with being well-liked (which has worked to his advantage, and has paradoxically made him more revered) and is not in any imminent danger of being forced out by the network brass, basically been given carte blanche by CBS to stay as long as he wants and, essentially, to do what he wants. When one jump-starts a late night franchise from scratch, we guess he’s granted some amount of immunity. But, unlike Jay, Dave doesn’t have a younger, hipper, potential replacement nipping at his heels, which makes the future of The Late Show even murkier.
While Craig Ferguson has built up a small but very loyal, impassioned following, and has received rave reviews for years from critics, we don’t have the sense that he’s long for his job, or at least eying the 11:35pm slot. In that small studio (we’ve been there) in CBS Television City, without a house band or announcer, Ferguson can deliver long, meandering monologues (verging on soliloquies) straight to camera, as if the audience and the viewing public wasn’t there, and engage in extended, intimate irreverent conversations with a diverse pool of guests. The Late Late Show interviews occupy that space between the celebrity shilling meant for the masses that one can observe on most late night talk shows and the quiet, introspective, one-on-one interviews conducted without a studio audience on past programs like Tom Synder’s Late Late Show. Sometimes it feels like The Late Late Show is performed for the studio audience, and then broadcast to millions of homes as an afterthought. Which isn’t to say that Ferguson couldn’t do a more traditional, more accessible late night show if he were bumped up to the main slot, we’re just not sure he wants to. Signed through 2014, when Letterman’s current contract runs through, it feels in some ways like he’s only there as long as Dave is, his relaxed, low-key, mischievous Scottish wit a complement Dave’s acerbic bitterness.