It would be impossible for a late night talk show host to appear before a Television Critics Association panel and not expect the Jay Leno 10 p.m. timeslot topic to come up. Craig Ferguson, addressing the audience at the Television Critics Association winter tour Wednesday, didn’t hesitate addressing the elephant in the room.
"I suppose that we're here this morning to discuss, let's be honest, Jay Leno going on at 10 o'clock on NBC, but other than that, we're still doing our show."
For his part, the CBS Late Late Show host isn’t losing sleep over timeslots and scheduling.
“Whether it be 11:30 p.m., 10 p.m. or 12:30 p.m., as long as it doesn’t affect me creatively, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’d like more money, but who wouldn’t.”
Late Late Show executive producer Peter Lassally offered his view on the Leno move to primetime.
“It’s a brave choice on the part of NBC, but a very big gamble, in my opinion,” he said. “If Leno succeeds at 10 o’clock, my concern will be: Will people go to sleep after that? NBC affiliates would be very unhappy for 11 o’clock news ratings to slip and what does it do to NBC’s 11:30 and 12:30 shows? This is a whole new experiment and it could shake up things tremendously.”
He continued, “Competition on late night show is not the opposition, it’s sleep -- people fighting sleep to decide whether to stay through the show for the night. With five late night talk shows in Los Angeles alone, it will certainly affect the guests. It’s gonna be quite a change this coming year.”
Another change this year will be Jimmy Fallon taking over for Conan O’Brien. When asked if he was prepared to beat Fallon in the ratings, Ferguson said, “I think Jimmy Fallon’s audience is a different audience. His competition is Adult Swim. It’s [ratings are] very important for the networks. Being first, second or third doesn’t affect my salary.”
Ferguson also went to bat for the rookie host. “Give Jimmy a month before you review him. He’s the reverse Barack Obama. He hasn’t done anything yet and everybody is commenting on his performance.”
After four years on the air, Ferguson attributes his success to doing “something different.”
“It’s different by its very nature,” he said. “We don’t hide how crappy we are sometimes. It’s quite refreshing and entertaining.”
Another aspect that keeps the show refreshing for Ferguson is the minimal scripted content on the show. The staff writes jokes and topical things, but nothing is structured, he says.
“[The monologue] is not written until it’s performed,” he said. “That’s really, I think, to keep it interesting for me. I have to enjoy it or it won’t work.”
Although he was hesitant to reveal his favorite guest, he gave a shout out to his ‘Golden Girl.’
“The best guest will always and forever be Betty White.”