Ken Tucker rates the new 'Late Late Show' host, who admires Bill Murray and lusts after Heidi Klum

By Ken Tucker
Updated April 01, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
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Craig Kilborn’s debut is a winner

Craig Kilborn may have commenced his Tuesday debut of the new ”Late Late Show” by giving serious props to his predecessor, Tom Snyder, but the younger, darker-haired, snarkier host quickly made this post-”Letterman” vehicle his own. Which is to say, a slicker version of the snark-fest Kilborn presided over on Comedy Central, ”The Daily Show.” Kilby is still doing funnily mean takes on the news of the world, and he still does his ”5 Questions” bit — solid-gold material when your first questionee is Bill Murray, the ”Rushmore” star who really ”can” name all the presidents on Mt. Rushmore.

As the host happily acknowledged, it is Murray’s deadpan put-on, his self-deflating mock narcissism, that has most profoundly affected his own style. Kilborn’s humor is preemptively self-critical — he made fun of his smugness by singing a song with the lyrics, ”I’m self-deprecating/I just want to be your friend,” and the joke was that you know he’s not and he doesn’t.

This sort of thing was getting tiresome on ”The Daily Show,” but the big-network promotion and a sleek bachelor-pad set has energized Kilborn: He was better on his premiere because he actually seemed to care about whether his material was going over well.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not expecting (or asking for) an earnest Craig Kilborn, but I liked the loose-limbed expansiveness of his debut. He seemed at ease, and unafraid to reveal his genuine admiration for Murray or his genuine lust for his other guest, model Heidi Klum.

It was, all in all, an auspicious premiere, with one substantial reservation. Kilborn’s chief carryover sin from ”The Daily Show” is a recurring tendency to make unironic fun of black people, as he did on ”The Late Late Show” with Heavy D (in the flesh) and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (in a couple of news items). Sometimes ”snarky” is just a code word for ”ugly.”

The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn

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