Craig Ferguson had no studio audience last night, and only one guest: actor-writer-comedian-polymath and occasional Bones cast member Stephen Fry. They just talked. It was one of the best hours of TV I’ve seen in a while. It was also a crucial Late Late Show at a crucial time, just before the late-night wars begin once again.

Ferguson commenced the show by explaining that the “terrible thing unfolding on NBC” had driven him to think anew about the late-night traditions started by Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, and “lovingly deconstructed” by David Letterman. And one of the inspirations for this one-on-one chat with Fry was a predecessor in the 12:35 time period, the late, “cranky, wonderful” Tom Snyder and his Tomorrow Show. (Check out my evening with Tom Snyder some time.)

One result of this re-thinking was last night’s “experiment”: Nothing new, Ferguson hastened to point out, but — well, yes, new enough. He and Fry wondered whether “it’s possible to talk to someone without people whooping in the background.” It certainly was.

Fry is a wonderful talker, of course. He and Ferguson discussed Hugh Laurie (he and Fry were a much-loved comic duo, Fry and Laurie, in the 1980s and early ’90s), Jersey Shore (“I’d like to have abdominal muscles like that,” said Craig) the punk rock scene in 1970s London (one of the 52-year-old Fry’s formative experiences), Zac Efron (“very beautiful and very talented,” remarked the eternally open-minded Ferguson), and Twitter (Fry is an avid, prolific “early adopter,” as he put it, and remember you can follow you-know-who #CraigyFerg).

They talked about Fry’s cocaine use, Craig’s alcohol use, and the uselessness of getting older. “I doubt I would recognize Lady Gaga if she walked into a room unless she had a wedding cake on her head,” admitted Fry. “I feel like a fogey,” said Ferguson, “but the best way to [combat] that is not to talk about how good things used to be, but appreciate what’s new.”

What was new last night was this old-fashioned hour, in which two people conversed in an enlightening, deceptively casual way. It was terrific to see two pros like this.

I vote for one edition a month of The Late Late Show in this format.

And finally, in intemperate complaint: Could CBS please start putting Ferguson’s show up on the CBS website early the next morning so people who missed it can watch the %$#@* thing? I mean, you’ve got a national treasure here. Start treating him better.

How about you? Did you watch?

Follow @kentucker