Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bye Stephen, Bye Craig

I felt a little guilty watching the final episodes of "The Colbert Report" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson."  Both were programs that I used to watch regularly back in college and grad school.  I distinctly remember the first seasons of each, and watching the hosts experiment with their formats and voices before settling on the familiar forms we know today.  Little by little I gave them up, went to bed earlier, and would occasionally circle back to catch clips of the highlights on Youtube when those went viral. 
I admired Colbert's verve, even if I found his fake pundit routine wearing too thin after a few years to keep me watching regularly.  When he would pull stunts like creating his own SuperPAC, I cheered him on.  I liked Ferguson better, who pretended to have no agenda and no regard for his own position in late night, but then systematically carved out a unique, kitschy little place for himself full of toys and puppets and silly costumes, and then invited Desmond Tutu for a chat.  Ferguson was simply on too late.  After staying up to catch his monologue for years, I finally had to give him up when I got a real job that required getting up before 7AM.  And now suddenly it's a decade later and both gentlemen are moving on. 
Far more loyal and knowledgeable fans than I have eulogized the show and written at length about why these two were so important.  However, I think their final episodes spoke for themselves.  Colbert was flashier and more fun, lining up interviews with President Obama, Smaug the Dragon, and finally the Grim Reaper.  He organized a sing-along that included Big Bird, George Lucas, and Henry Kissinger crooning "We'll Meet Again," from the ending of the greatest satirical American film ever made, "Dr. Strangelove."  Befitting his alter-ego's massive ego, the show ended with Colbert becoming immortal and joining the pantheon of pop culture icons, including Santa, Abe Lincoln, and Alex Trebek.  And at the very end, most poignantly, he threw the baton back to Jon Stewart at "The Daily Show," framing the entire nine-years as just an extended segment on the show where Colbert's blowhard character first originated. 
Craig Ferguson had far less of a budget and far less polish, which has been par for the course for his show the entire time it's been on.  He opened with the big, star-studded musical number, but it was almost entirely pre-taped, cutting in the end to Craig rocking out on his sparsely populated studio set.  He finally got his band, though.  The opening number also replaced his usual lengthy monologue, so after trading a few barbs with Geoff Peterson (far more articulate both physically and verbally since I saw him last), we got to the meat of the hour, which was a fairly serious conversation on life after talk show hosting with a shaggy Jay Leno.  There were a few fun in-jokes - Secretariat was revealed to be Bob Newhart all along - and then Craig closed with a clumsily executed bit with Drew Carey that parodied the famous endings of "Newhart" and "St. Elsewhere."  And it felt exactly right, except for being over far too quickly.
Both of the hosts will still be around, of course.  Stephen Colbert will be taking a break and then heading over to CBS Late Night to take over for David Letterman after Dave has his own sendoff in a few short weeks.  it won't be the Colbert persona we've known and loved, though, but a kinder, gentler, mainstream-friendly Colbert who will stay largely apolitical.  Craig Ferguson has yet to commit to any particular project, but he's bound to pop up again somewhere, doing something interesting.  Maybe he'll write another book or go back to scripting movies.  Remember "Saving Grace"?  Or I'd love to see him pull a Jon Stewart and direct something.   
It'll never be the same, and of course, it shouldn't be.  Ten years is quite long enough for anybody to do anything.  Still, I'm sad to see these gentlemen go.  2014 has been a year of hard goodbyes, from Robin Williams to the "Mythbusters" build team, and the laughs have felt fewer and farther between.  Colbert and Ferguson are some of the most dependable late night comics we have, and I'll miss their contributions terribly. 

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