Scott D. Pierce: Believe Craig Ferguson when he says stepping down was his idea

First Published      Last Updated May 01 2014 03:08 pm

Craig Ferguson is one of the classiest men in TV.

When he announced he's leaving "The Late Late Show," he did it without rancor. He not only offered his sincere thanks to CBS, but he spelled it out for his fans — he's not being forced out. And they should not be upset with anyone at the network.

"CBS has been fine with me," Ferguson told his viewers. "In fact, more than that, they've been great with me. … So please don't picket them or go up to CBS with flaming torches or … unless you're angry at me, and then — get in line."

I met Ferguson in about 1998, not long after he joined the cast of "The Drew Carey Show." I've interviewed him many times since, including multiple times backstage at "The Late Late Show." He was always charming , open, smart and funny. That was true in January 2005, just three weeks after he took over that show.

"I had never thought in my life about being a talk-show host," Ferguson said. "It's not something that you think is going to go to a Scotsman, anyway, coming to America. It didn't occur to me."

Ferguson is clever enough to get along with the people who write about him. He once hosted the Television Critics Association Awards — a nonpaying gig. Another time, he sent pizzas over to the hotel where members of the TCA were camped.

And, over and over again across the past decade, Ferguson has insisted he didn't have designs on succeeding David Letterman on the "Late Show." Which makes it much easier to believe that he's not exiting at the end of the year because that job went to Stephen Colbert.

"This is not Jay and Conan at NBC, this is not Dave and Jay all these years ago," Ferguson told his viewers. "It's not that.

"Now, you will read that in areas of the Internet where truth is of absolutely no interest. And you will read that in the [air quotes] informed entertainment press, where the truth is of absolutely no interest, but in bigger words. So what I have to tell you is this. It's my decision to leave.

"I feel like doing this show for 10 years, that's enough."

If this were somebody other than Ferguson, I'd be skeptical. But I believe him when he says he almost left two years ago and CBS persuaded him to stay. I believe him when he says he agreed to stay through the end of the year to give CBS more time to find his replacement.

Big-time television is a very cynical business. Remember, Jay Leno said he was fine with it the first time he was forced to relinquish "The Tonight Show," but he later admitted that was anything but the case.

Ferguson went his own way. "And I still have another 150 or so of what I like to think is the strangest show on late-night television," he said.

Strange and distinctive, which doesn't often happen on network TV.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.