NEW YORK (AP) — Craig Ferguson will spend tomorrow's future yesterdays (as his theme song proclaims) somewhere other than "The Late Late Show." Friday was his last hoorah after a decade as host of the CBS talk show.
And what did we learn (as Ferguson is fond of posing at the end of each hour)? Maybe that it was Bob Newhart all those years disguised as Secretariat the Pantomime Horse?
Secretariat has long been a popular member of the "Late Late Show" stable, but proper credit was never given to the people who brought him to life. That mystery was answered — well, sort of — in the finale.
As Ferguson chatted with his robot sidekick, Geoff, he pondered who it might be inside the horse costume.
"Lift up your head, let's see who you really are," he called across to Secretariat, who was watching from his stall, stage left. Off came the head of the costume to reveal Bob Newhart.
"What are you doing here?" the astonished Ferguson asked.
"Hey, guy, it's YOUR dream," replied the comedy legend, spoofing the classic final scene from his sitcom, "Newhart," a quarter-century ago.
In this case, Ferguson woke up from his dream in bed beside Drew Carey. Had his entire 10 years on "The Late Late Show" all been imagined?
Ferguson's going-away party also featured former "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno as his sole guest.
"Just two guys with nothing to do," summed up Ferguson.
"They may take our talk shows," Leno chimed in, "but they will never take our freedom!"
The show kicked off with a pre-taped rendition of "Bang Your Drum," a song by the Scottish band Dead Man Fall, with Ferguson accompanied by dozens of celebs (many of them former guests) including Matthew McConaughey, Betty White, Samuel L. Jackson, Larry King, Regis Philbin, Jane Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Jimmy Kimmel, William Shatner and even Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
It then transitioned into the studio for a full production number with Ferguson backed by a rock band and choir.
Ferguson's send-off followed by a day the splashy exit of Stephen Colbert and his series "The Colbert Report" from Comedy Central after nine years on the air. Colbert is headed to CBS to take over "Late Show" from David Letterman, who retires May 20.
Taking Ferguson's place as host of "The Late Late Show": British actor-writer-comedian James Corden, who debuts March 23.
Now 52, the Scottish-born Ferguson came to "The Late Late Show" in January 2005 with a varied resume including punk-rock drummer, author, standup comic and actor. He had appeared in several films and written and starred in three, including the 2003 comedy "I'll Be There," which he also directed. At the time, he was best known as Nigel Wick, the imperious British boss on Carey's long-running ABC sitcom.
Carey will be among those filling in on "Late Late Show" before Corden arrives. Other scheduled guest hosts include Will Arnett, Wayne Brady, Jim Gaffigan, Billy Gardell and Sean Hayes.
But even though absent from late night in the future, Ferguson won't be absent from the airwaves. He continues as host of "Celebrity Name Game," a weekday syndicated game show launched this fall.
Allowing that "art is a very grand word," Ferguson said what he's tried to do with "The Late Late Show" is "make something that wasn't here before. So in that sense, maybe it IS a piece of art."
"Really, the show belongs to you," he told his audience, then cracked, "I hope you keep it, because I'm done with it!"
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore