Brand-new U.S. citizen Craig Ferguson's American dream is to follow David Letterman on CBS for years to come. And if Letterman steps aside when his deal ends in 2010, Ferguson thinks the Late Show seat should go to -- Jon Stewart.
“I think Jon should replace Dave if Dave decides to go,” Ferguson said last week. “I think Dave should stay, I think he ain't done. But if Dave is finished, I think Jon has earned the job.”
It might seem strange for the host of CBS' 12:30 a.m. Late Late Show to bask in his good fortune without seeking more time-slot glory. But after a long chat in Ferguson's office in which he waffled often on whether he truly wants 11:30 p.m., it seems he either has a great defense mechanism or he's just not sure what he wants to do if and when his boss leaves.
He may have to be, soon enough. The late-night schedule will be completely remade in the coming year. Conan O'Brien is supposed to take over The Tonight Show in 2009, NBC is mining for his replacement and Jay Leno should be a coveted free agent.
CBS' lineup looks static by comparison, but that might not be the case for long. And Ferguson is finally speaking about it publicly for the first time.
The hook is Letterman. Ferguson wants Dave to join him in re-signing with CBS beyond 2010. “I will sit behind Dave as long as he sits there,” Ferguson says. But if his boss doesn't reup? “If someone else is there,” he says, “I'm not sure.”
I've written before about Stewart being the leading candidate to replace Letterman if he should leave. That possibility was strengthened when Stewart reupped with Comedy Central only through 2010 -- when Letterman's contract is up. Ferguson said he was ticked off he wasn't even mentioned as a possible replacement in the story.
“It didn't bother me as much [last year] as it would bother me if I'm not mentioned in 2010. I want to be part of it,” he says. “You want to be invited to the party, even if you don't want to go.”
Ferguson didn't mind sitting back during his strike-imposed vacation, yet he says he can't see not hosting a show because he's having too much fun doing one. And he's not sure he'd want the increased fame and headaches that come with 11:30, but wants to be in the mix. Sounds like someone considering a run for office.
“It's not been my lifelong ambition to host The Tonight Show or something like it,” he says. “Jimmy [Kimmel] and Conan [O'Brien], that's what they want and have always wanted. I think I'm pretty good at it, but it's not necessary for me to feel complete as a human being.”
I told Ferguson that other late-night hosts and execs will scoff at him for claiming he wouldn't jump at an 11:30 slot. “I don't give a s--- what they say. I'm telling you the truth. If someone offered 11:30, I would not that day say yes. Would I say yes at some point? It's likely, but I'd have to think about it.”
What else might he do? If Ferguson wants to stay in talk, he's perfect for daytime syndication. “I've thought of that,” he says. “I couldn't put on a sweater and do cooking segments, but you get summers off and can make a ton of money.”
For now, Ferguson is looking forward to performing at the White House Correspondents' dinner in April. And he is waiting to see what happens with NBC and Jay Leno in 2009, which is when he expects to start sorting out his future.
I couldn't help noticing a pillow on his office couch embroidered with the words “Tick F---ing Tock.”
A fitting accessory, given that time is getting short for the current late-night lineup -- and for Ferguson to stand up on where he wants to sit.
For more with Craig Ferguson, check out Ben Grossman's LCB Notebook.