Exclusive: Craig Ferguson talks about winning the Peabody Award and 'ruffling some feathers' in late-night
The announcement yesterday that Craig Ferguson had won a prestigious Peabody Award for “excellence in broadcasting” came as a big surprise to… Craig Ferguson. “I didn’t know I’d been nominated,” Ferguson told me today. Speaking of the prize that’s been given to TV legends ranging from newsman Edward R. Murrow to first host of The Tonight Show Steve Allen, Ferguson said he was “humbled, which is why I had to have an alligator puppet announce it on the show instead of me. It seemed more seemly that way.”
Was he excited? “Yeah, a bit baffled. My wife was excited… and then I told her about the Peabody!” That Craig — what a joker.
Ferguson won for his Late Late Show interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “I suppose when you have someone who’s as thoughtful and life-changing as Bishop Tutu on, it increases your chances more than if I’d interviewed, say, Mark Harmon, as lovely a man as Mark Harmon is,” he said. “But I’m very mindful of the fact that the next night, my guest was Paris Hilton. You have to keep these things in perspective.”
Perspective is what Ferguson is all about these days. He was recently quoted as saying “I don’t give a f— about the late-night wars… If late-night is a club, I don’t want to be a member.”
“What I meant by that was, I don’t want somebody to lump me in with a whole form of TV that I’m not necessarily a real part of. We do a show that’s on late at night, but it’s not ‘a late-night talk show.’ In fact, with DVRs, we’re probably more a 9:30 a.m. show. I should probably think of Regis as my true competition,” he said, laughing.
“Look: I clearly love what I’m doin’ with this show. But if I was forced by executives to change it up the way Conan seems to have had to change some things [to do The Tonight Show], or the way Jay, of necessity, had to change things to go on at 10 p.m. — I just couldn’t do it. I have to believe in what I’m doing.”
“It always ruffles some feathers among viewers when I try to change things up. You know, at first people hated my puppets, now they get upset if I say I may not have the puppets around as much.
“More than anything I proceed from doubt — doubt about whether a joke is gonna work, or a change in the format is gonna work. But doubt’s a good thing: It keeps you alive and alert.”
This is not the kind of talk you hear from your average talk-show host. I don’t think you’ll hear Chelsea Handler or even Charlie Rose discussing her or his feelings of doubt any time soon.
One thing Ferguson has no doubt about is how “awesome” the unveiling of his “robot skeleton sidekick” is going to be, on next Monday night’s show. Designed by MythBusters master Grant Imahara, it sounds like it’s going to be mightily impressive.
“It will be thinner and more deadly than any other talk-show sidekick in history,” said Ferguson confidently. “All due respect to Andy Richter, but I don’t think he could decapitate a guest the way my robot skeleton sidekick Geoff Peterson will be able to.”
Next Monday, I’ll have an interview with Imahara and more with Ferguson about the sidekick. In the meantime, what do you think about his comments, and the impending robot sidekick?