Craig Ferguson is ready to take late night once again, and this time he’s doing it with the History Channel.
The former “Late Late Show” host is ready to debut his new panel series, “Join or Die with Craig Ferguson” and he’s taking no prisoners as he gathers some famous and very intelligent friends to debate what’s really important in world history — from worst medical advice to most influential drug.
Ferguson sat down with Zap2it to discuss exactly how the show works, why it’s ultimately up to the audience to pick a winner and how it was inspired by his time on “The Late Late Show.”
He also reveals whatever became of his robotic “Late Late Show” sidekick, Geoff Peterson. As if that’s not enough, he has some serious thoughts on the great Beatles vs. Rolling Stones debate.
Zap2it: When watching the first few minutes of the show, you can’t help but think, ‘Oh, this is ‘The Late Late Show.” You get that closeup, one camera monologue shot that feels so unique to that program. Was that an intentional way to bridge the gap between the two?
Craig Ferguson: Well it’s kind of what I do, it’s like my handwriting style. When I started doing it in late night, we only had the one camera in the s***ty little studio, so I just did that.
During the run of late night we got lots of cameras and stuff, but I always did it that way because it’s how I work the camera. It just felt like the right thing to do, it’s how I hold the pen.
It also seems to help transition into what is essentially a panel show, which we’re seeing more of on TV — between ‘The Nightly Show’ and what James Corden is doing with ‘The Late Late Show.’
Right, it has the feeling of the old BBC panel shows. It’s not a new format by any means. The idea of a panel of people, Graham Norton’s been doing it for f***ing years. Before that, they used to do “The Tonight Show” like this.
The way that it’s set up is … I don’t want to say vanilla, but kind of. It is what it is. That’s how it’s done.
Now, what makes it different, i think, is where the discussion goes and what you talk about. As for the delivery system, a pen’s a pen, ink is ink and paper is paper. That’s how it’s done.
What you could own, that’s what makes your particular piece different from anyone else’s. That’s what I hope anyway.
Well, and this particular brand of it stands out. When it comes to late night shows, they’re very steeped in current events. ‘Join or Die’ is on the History Channel though, so it’s looking at the past. The first two episodes are about political blunders and influential drugs — which are fairly recent in world history. Are you reaching further back?
Oh yeah! There’s worst disease, best invention, all that stuff. Some of the categories work better than others, to be honest. We did one show that’s history’s greatest d*****bag, which I think is not that successful.
It’s too wide a category, there’s too many d*****bags and not everyone’s a d*****bag their whole life! It just doesn’t really work out, I feel.
There does seem to be a contemporary spin on a lot of it, but that’s because you’re alive now and your reference points tend to be what’s around you.
I think as we go forward we should look further into the past. We’ve done best invention of the 20th century, why not best invention of the 1,000 after the birth of Christ?
It seems to be, the more specific we are, it doesn’t matter where in history we go. When you say most influential rock band, which is one of the shows, you say most influential rock band since 1950.
That’s actually the most contentious show we’ve done yet. People were f***ing up in arms!
Does it just come down to the never-ending debate of The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones?
See, I think the Stones should not have been on the list. I don’t think the Stones are an influential band, I think they’re famous because they’re white — which infuriates people when you say that kind of thing.
The system of making the show, narrowing down a list from 6 to 1 — that’s not a real thing, that’s just internet list bulls*** meant to stir the discussion. So I think what we should do in the future as we go forward is just be very specific.
And in figuring out what’s the best or worst of something, you take an interesting route and let the audience fight it out with their votes.
Well, history is written by the victors. Arguably the victors are the ones left alive and they’re the ones in the studio audience, so let them f***ing write it! That, to me, is … the show has no official academic value, right? Except that if it’s done right it stimulates discussion. If that discussion is genuine and involved, then it has a Socratic value, which means it does have academic value.
Speaking of that discussion, have you figured out the key to a perfect panel, because I’m seeing a formula in celebrity guest, expert and lesser-known comedian.
What seems to work best is someone I knew and love from 10 years in late night in the celebrity chair, a comedian who i think is smart and clever and can think on their feet in the middle. Then an expert in the subject we’re talking about. Somebody who’s lived or studied or knows about that particular subject.
That was difficult in terms of the d*****bag episode. Who’s an expert on d*****bags? Anyone in f***ing Hollywood.
Lastly, whatever happened to Geoff Peterson — your robot sidekick from “The Late Late Show”?
In my office at Lionsgate! I go in there and I have him sitting in the corner. He’s not turned on but he’s still functional. It’s not like me, I’m not turned on but I’m still functional.
“Join or Die with Craig Ferguson” airs Thursdays at 11 p.m. ET/PT on History Channel.