Not a great day

“The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” taped its Friday episode on Thursday. The opening monologue, apparently, had to do with Batman – not surprisingly, given the hype surrounding the new movie which opened today.

Then, overnight, current events intervened.

Craig Ferguson might bristle at the use of the term “classy” to describe him – after all, much of the comic banter on his show, especially between Ferguson and his robot skeleton sidekick Geoff Peterson, is gleefully, slyly, playfully ribald. But when it counts, Craig Ferguson has class.

Ferguson just opened tonight’s show with a prologue, recorded today, in which he acknowledged what  happened last night in Colorado. He said he didn’t want to air the Batman monologue – which would have begun, as do all his monologues, with the phrase “It’s a great day for America, everybody” – but didn’t want to cancel the show entirely and replace it with a rerun, out of fairness to his guests, and because it’s sometimes in the midst of tragedy that we need the most to laugh. He also said he didn’t want to shoot from the cuff in commenting on the tragedy, except to say that his thoughts were with the people of Aurora.

Fade to black, cut to a commercial break, and then when we came back we picked up with the show as recorded last night – after the monologue. Craig and Geoff are now giggling over the viewer tweets and e-mails.

It was about as good a way as one could expect of handling a difficult situation.

Ring-Ding smackdown

Normally, I’m disappointed when “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is on break and runs a “best of” episode — after all, it’s a topical news quiz — but this week’s compilation, based on listener favorite suggestions, is pretty darn good, and a great introduction to the show if you’ve never listened to it.

In one of the repeated segments, they ask TV’s Craig Ferguson — who is open about being a recovering alcoholic — three questions about a man who has a more literal monkey on his back.

But the highlight of the package is an appearance by healthy food expert Michael Pollan — who gets into a hysterically-funny argument with panelist Paula Poundstone over the importance of comfort foods like Twinkies and Ring-Dings. Even if you don’t listen to the whole show, skip ahead in the NPR player to this segment.

Lopez Tonight

I will have to watch “Lopez Tonight” (for, I admit, the first time) this evening to see George Lopez’s reaction to Conan O’Brien’s announcement today.

Conan’s new TBS show will push “Lopez Tonight” back by an hour. According to Bill Carter of the New York Times, this was originally a deal-breaker for Conan. Conan had been on the wrong end of such an arrangement at NBC, which is why he left, and he — understandably, and to his credit — did not want to do to George Lopez what NBC and Jay Leno had done to him.

But then, Lopez personally called Conan and asked him to accept the arrangement. Lopez probably feels that a 12 Eastern / 11 Central show with Conan as his lead-in will turn out better in the long run than an 11 Eastern / 10 Central show with TBS’s sitcom reruns as a lead-in. I think he’s right, and I think having the two talk shows back to back will be good for both of them.

As I said, I haven’t seen George Lopez’s talk show before, although I’ve seen his standup comedy, and I think he probably likes an atmosphere like TBS where he gets comparatively little interference from network executives and can do his own style of comedy. I think Conan will thrive at TBS for just those same reasons. Conan’s last two weeks at “The Tonight Show” were some of the funniest shows he’s ever done, and it’s because he didn’t have anyone to impress and could just relax and do the show he wanted to do. TBS may give him less of a budget (I wonder if Andy or Max will be there), but I believe he’ll have much more free rein than he did at NBC or than he would have at FOX.

FOX, it is true, has a more free-wheeling approach in general than the three traditional networks, but the network was reported to be bristling at the cost of launching a new late-night talk show and was going to have to please a lot of unhappy affiliate stations from whom it would be forcibly taking an hour of late-night air time. I think FOX would have breathed down Conan’s neck in the same way that NBC did.

Even though Craig Ferguson is on a broadcast network, CBS, he has made the same kind of tradeoff Conan is making. Craig’s show is — as he likes to remind us — run on a low budget, I imagine lower than Conan’s will be at TBS. But the network lets him do his own thing.

Another great day for America, everybody

Craig Ferguson, who stayed above the fray in the recent late-night wars and who is making more and more of a name for himself, had a hum-dinger of a show Tuesday night. I went to bed early with my cold, of course, but I recorded it on the DVR and watched the first half this morning while getting ready for work.

Craig gave a nod to Tom Snyder, who once occupied that time slot and the “Late Late Show” name, by doing a single-guest show without a monologue or a studio audience. The guest was one of Ferguson’s old friends, actor and writer Stephen Fry. (Why, oh why, won’t someone re-run the old “Jeeves and Wooster” episodes featuring Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves?) Judging from the part I’ve seen, it was a great, intelligent conversation, not a five-minute plug for some upcoming movie or TV episode.

This critic at Huffington Post (hat tip to Newscoma) seems to agree, and the program also got a nice mention from Mark Evanier.

I don’t want to see Craig adopt this format full-time — and I don’t think that’s the idea. (I’d hate to see him give up the silly skits and the monologue, neither of which was a part of Tuesday night’s show.) But I hope he does it again, regularly, when he has an appropriate guest.

The clips don’t seem to be up on Craig’s site yet, but I’ll try to embed them once I find them.

Wavy gets his day

Some months back, the programmers at CBS re-jiggered their schedule in such a way that, immediately following David Letterman, Craig Ferguson came out and did a little three-minute teaser, followed by a commercial break, followed by the opening credits and the official monologue.

Sometimes the teaser would be like a little mini-monologue, but sometimes, Craig would do creative or silly things with it, such as lip-synching to a song (accompanied by strangely-costumed characters). Sometimes, the teaser would involve puppets, and those quickly became a popular part of the show, to the extent that when they re-shot the opening credits in HD, they included scenes of Craig with a puppet on each hand. I’m sure Craig would make no claims to being a professional puppeteer, but the various voices and personalities he gives the puppets are quite amusing.

Well, Tuesday night was the 1,000th episode since Craig took over “The Late Late Show,” and Craig (except for those opening credits) was scarcely seen. The entire show was hosted by Wavy the crocodile (Or is he an alligator? Even he isn’t sure), one of the puppet characters. Two of the show’s regular comedy bits — one featuring Craig’s Sean Connery impression, and the advice segment “Dear Aquaman” — were done with puppet stand-ins. Aquaman was “played” by a shark, and I’m not sure what kind of animal the Sean Connery puppet was supposed to be. It was hard to see because he had a beard.

The final scene, with Wavy lip-synching James Taylor’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” featured a number of cast and crew members on stage, and for this segment someone else must have been working the Wavy puppet because Craig was sprawled out on the floor in his hideous-looking Prince Charles makeup and costume.

It was all goofy and brilliant. Here’s a sample:

Your future yesterday

I posted a clip back when Craig Ferguson introduced a slick new credit sequence for “The Late Late Show,” including a new remix of his theme song (which Ferguson sings himself).

Here, with hat tip to Mark Evanier, is a YouTube of the complete song, the length of an actual single (2:51) as opposed to the little snippet you hear on the show each night. For the first 30 seconds or so, the video is illustrated with the same footage you see on the opening credits. Whoever put this together illustrated the rest of the video with some making-of footage from the opening credits shoot, as well as some footage of the puppets who turn up during the show’s cold-open teaser.

Best lyric from the unaired portion? “What’s the point of going to bed? / You look so lovely when your eyes are red”

Tomorrow’s just your future yesterday

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson began airing in HD last night, which meant they had to shoot a new intro. It’s great — and includes a slightly harder-edged re-record of the whimsical theme song. Ferguson himself still sings the theme, of course, and the new intro also shows him drumming — he used to be a drummer in “some of the worst punk bands in the U.K.,” according to his bio at the CBS web site.

Check it out: