Your Complete Guide to the History of The Late Late Show: The hosts, the honors, the gags, the future
As The Late Late Show begins its transition into its next incarnation, here’s a brief guide to the history of one of late night’s most prolific talk and variety shows. Grab your snake mug and drink in the history of your favorite after-dark hour!
Originally produced by David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Incorporated, The Late Late Show was created to follow up The Late Show with David Letterman, as the late night legend moved over to CBS. With its omission of a house band or in-studio announcer, the show separated itself from most of the other late-night talk shows.
The Late Late Show Begins: The Tom Snyder Era (1995-1999)
The first ever Late Late Show aired January 9, 1995 with host Tom Snyder. Letterman had a long history with Snyder — he’d actually joked that one day Snyder would follow him on the air as he had once followed Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. The idea blossomed into a reality, and Letterman tapped him to be the first host.
The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder had a very different feel compared to Letterman’s show, as Snyder was more of a newsman than a typical comedian.. It aired live for Eastern and Central Time Zones, and was simulcast over CBS Radio stations to allow for fans to call in. It had no studio audience, and while Snyder did monologues, the show shined for its intimate interview format.
Notable interviews included Gloria Vanderbilt, with an hour-long dramatic telling of her son’s suicide, and an exclusive interview with Robert Blake, soon before Blake was charged with murder.
Jon Stewart, now of The Daily Show, filled in when Snyder was on break. Snyder's final Late Late Show aired on March 26, 1999.
The Craig Kilborn Reformat (1999-2004)
With Snyder announcing his departure, Craig Kilborn (then host of The Daily Show) was tapped as his replacement. Kilborn’s run began March 29, 1999 with an updated show format that more closely resembled the standard late-night talk show. It was geared towards a younger demographic.
Kilborn, now with a studio audience, narrated his own intro and entered to the classic tune "Play That Funky Music" before doing his monologue. His more popular segments included "Yambo," an elimination question game between two guests, and "Five Questions," in which Kilborn would ask the guests a series of questions of increasing hilarity.
After a five year run, Kilborn surprisingly elected not to extend his contract to pursue other career ambitions. Kilborn's last episode of The Late Late Show aired on August 27, 2004.
On-Air Auditions for the Next Host (September 2004-December 2004)
With Kilborn’s departure coming more quickly than expected, CBS and Worldwide Pants decided to have a series of on-air auditions with guests hosts to choose the next face of the show.
Drew Carey began the broadcasts on September 20, 2004. Guests hosts included Jason Alexander, Jeff Altman, Tom Arnold, Michael Ian Black, Tom Caltabiano, Adam Carolla, Tom Dreesen, David Duchovny, Damien Fahey, Craig Ferguson, Jim Gaffigan, Ana Gasteyer, David Alan Grier, D.L. Hughley, Lisa Joyner, Donal Logue, Rosie Perez, Ahmad Rashad, Jim Rome, Aisha Tyler, and The Late Late Show head writer Michael "Gibby" Gibbons.
The four finalists for week-long tryouts were: D. L. Hughley, Damien Fahey, Michael Ian Black and Craig Ferguson. We know who won that battle — Craig Ferguson, a Scottish comedian best known at the time for his role as the boss on The Drew Carey Show.
The Craig Ferguson Era (2005-2014)
“Welcome to Los Angeles, California. Welcome to The Late Late Show. I am your host, TV's Craig Ferguson. It’s a great day for America, everybody!"
Craig Ferguson took over The Late Late Show on January 3, 2005 and made it his own. He garnered the highest ratings since the show's beginnings. Ferguson never felt chained by scripts and often improvised much of his show. While the focus was comedy, Craig never shied away from serious subjects, like the Boston Marathon bombing and the deaths of his parents. He also held serious interviews, including one with Desmond Tutu, which earned the show a 2009 Peabody Award.
Craig spiced up the show by creating characters Geoff Peterson and Secretariat. Geoff became his “gay robot skeleton” sidekick, eventually voiced and controlled by the talented Josh Robert Thompson. The original robot was constructed by the Mythbusters' Grant Imahara and evolved over time to receive his very own podium on set. To the other side of the set in his stable stood Secretariat (not a real horse), the first pantomime regular on late night TV.
Craig’s show format included a cold open, a monologue, “Tweets and Emails,” guest interviews, and stand-up comedy or music performances. It ended with “What Did We Learn on the Show Tonight, Craig?” Each segment is noted for Craig’s persistence of improv, bucking the typical “late night joke” trend. Craig would even go so far as to rip up his note cards prior to each guest interview.
On April 28, 2014, Craig announced his departure of The Late Late Show for the end of the year, making his announcement shortly after David Letterman had decided to end his chapter as host of The Late Show. Craig’s final show aired December 19, 2014 and featured dozens of cameos from celebrities and friends of the show.
The Current Transition
Before successor James Corden takes over the show March 23, The Late Late Show will feature a series of guest hosts (this time without the audition angle) to fill the broadcast gap. Guest hosts will include: Judd Apatow, Will Arnett, Wayne Brady, Drew Carey, Jim Gaffigan, Billy Gardell, Sean Hayes, Thomas Lennon, John Mayer and Kunal Nayyar.
The time slot will also feature a special late night airing of CBS’ The Talk the week of January 12.
The Next Big Thing: James Corden
he Late Late Show audience truly craves an accent from the British Isles! 36-year-old English native James Corden comes to American late night television with a growing list of award-winning and critically acclaimed credits. He is a Tony Award-winning performer on Broadway, a BAFTA-winning star of a UK television series, a feature film actor with two releases this year, and an acclaimed host, writer and producer in several genres of television.
For the first time in The Late Late Show history, the show will feature a house band, with the talented Reggie Watts serving as the show’s first bandleader.
What will the show be like? Make sure to tune in to premiere of The Late Late Show with James Corden on March 23, 2015 at 12:35pm ET/11:35pm C, only on CBS!
Related Articles: James Corden Facts Great Host Traits List of Hosts