December 17, 2014 3:28 pm

Late night TV shake-up begins this week

Stephen Colbert, left, and Craig Ferguson will end their late night shows this week.

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By the end of the week, late night TV will never be the same. Two hosts are departing and another, who leaves next spring, hosts his final Christmas party.

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Stephen Colbert‘s final Colbert Report airs Thursday. He’ll welcome a mystery guest, “Grimmy,” billed as Colbert’s “colleague and lifelong friend.” With his black hood and skull face, he looks like the Grim Reaper. Colbert has said this will be the final appearance of his right-wing pundit and idiotic alter-ego, a character he’s played on the show for nine seasons and nearly 1,500 episodes.

A measure of the show’s impact was felt earlier this month when U.S. President Barack Obama temporarily took over the anchor desk. Colbert made words like “truthiness” part of the vernacular and his “Word” segment raised sarcasm to new heights. He reduced Fox News to a joke on a nightly basis.

Canadians weren’t immune to his sting. Colbert crossed the border to cover the 2010 Vancouver Games, calling us “ice holes” and “maple-sucking moose humpers.” Yet he stood on guard after the recent shootings in Ottawa, saluting that “magnificent bastard,” House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers.

Next August, the 50-year-old takes over for David Letterman as host of The Late Show on CBS. Big shoes to fill, but the “Nation” will tune in just to see what Colbert is really like after finally shedding his character.

Friday marks the final appearance of Craig Ferguson as host of the show after Letterman, CBS’s The Late Late Show. The proud Scot and even prouder naturalized American spent 10 years and over 2,000 episodes behind the desk. His 10-minute monologues were a high wire act of improvisation and just great gab, so unlike the usual string of jokes heard in late night. Ferguson made the midnight hour safe for puppets, especially his skeleton sidekick Geoff Peterson and Secretariat, the dancing horse who pranced in from the wings.

Ferguson took his show on memorable jaunts to France and Scotland. He took full advantage of his 12:37 a.m. timeslot, indulging at times in a Monty Python level of madness and whimsy. Yet, as an author, screenwriter, stand-up comedian and former punk band drummer, he brought an outside the TV box perspective to the talk show turf.

His sit-down with Desmond Tutu earned the host a Peabody Award, something he almost apologized for during the show’s sillier moments. He stepped outside the silliness, too, on sombre occasions, and declared some celebrity taunting off limits. A recovering alcoholic, he swore off jokes about Britney Spears when she struggled.

Ferguson had a “Prince of Wales” rider in his contract, calling for CBS to offer him The Late Show when Letterman — whose company Worldwide Pants produced Ferguson’s show — stepped down. When the opportunity arrived, the 52-year-old was declared too niche, and his reported $10-million buyout kicked in.

His last Late Late Show guest Friday will be another former talk show host, Jay Leno. Ferguson has already moved on to his next TV gig, hosting the syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game. It’s based on the board game Identity Crisis co-created by Canadian actress Laura Robinson.

Also Friday, on his last live show before the Christmas break, Letterman welcomes Darlene Love back to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It’s a tradition that dates back to 1986, when Letterman first had Love on his NBC talk show. Twenty-eight years later, she’ll join Canadian bandleader Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra in a final rendition of the tune, complete with the always innovative sax solo. Love vows, out of loyalty to Letterman, she’ll never perform the tune on television again.

Letterman has announced his final Late Show will air May 20. Friday’s final Christmas show will also include Jay Thomas, who has come on for years to tell a story Letterman never tires of: Thomas’s epic encounter with the late Lone Ranger star, Clayton Moore. The two will also aim their last footballs at the top of the Late Show Christmas tree, traditionally topped with a giant meatball. They’ve engaged in the odd tradition since 1998.

Colbert takes over for Letterman next August. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore slides into Colbert’s Report timeslot beginning Jan. 19. Brit newcomer James Corden will take over The Late Late Show from Ferguson March 23. Several celebrity guest hosts will cover the CBS late shift over January through March, including Judd Apatow, Will Arnett, Drew Carey, Jim Gaffigan, Billy Gardell, Sean Hayes, Thomas Lennon, John Mayer and Kunal Nayyar.

Nobody, however, will ever really replace Letterman or equal his record 33 years in late night.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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