Craig Ferguson Wants to Game the Game Show Genre
He says 'Celebrity Name Game' will succeed when it is "a comedy show in which a game is played"
As he rolls to the end of his time as a late-night talk show host, Craig Ferguson is starting his tenure as a game show host on Celebrity Name Game — but Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek can be assured the Scottish star won’t be looking to break his record as longest-running host in history.
“If you know anything about me, and recent news will confirm it, I don’t want to do anything for 30 years,” Ferguson said Wednesday during a telephone press conference. “A 10-year run in late night is long enough for me, and 10 years of doing this — if we should be so lucky as to last — is fine. I don’t want to do it forever.”
The rules for reporters during the press conference were that questions were limited to those about the new game show; so he did not address the end of his talk show or the choice of James Corden as his replacement in late night.
Although he isn’t a huge game show fan, Ferguson says he was attracted to Celebrity Name Game because it was the “loosest” of several game shows he considered. “I wanted to find a format,” he explained, “which would allow an attempt — and I don’t think we’ve been able to do it yet — but an attempt at some form of deconstruction. I felt we were most successful in the late-night show when it was lovingly trashing conventions.”
This new show, he added, has “enough breathing room and enough room for me to experiment and grow inside of it. That’s why I’m doing this one.”
Ferguson said if he is successful, what will make this show stand apart from others is when it becomes “a comedy show in which a game is played and money is won.”
It will be successful in his mind, said Ferguson, “when it feels like an improvised comedy show.”
Ferguson was asked why audiences like watching celebrities play games on shows like Hollywood Game Night (which he says he has never watched) and on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, where games are often played.
He said it is twofold: “Audiences like seeing the humanizing effect of somebody being as informal as that, because once you’re playing a game it’s a little more difficult to remain aloof. If you’re playing beer pong or Celebrity Name Game, it's difficult to maintain that sort of grand distance.”
He adds that celebrities like it because there is no pressure to “appear sparkling or inspired in the conversation… All you have to do is play the game. So the guesswork is out of it.”
Celebrity Name Game was created by actors Courteney Cox and her ex-husband David Arquette, who are executive producing the show. It was originally targeted for CBS but the network passed. Instead, the half-hour show is being syndicated nationally by FremantleMedia North America and Debmar-Mercury (a division of Lionsgate). It is based on the board game Identity Crisis.
When asked why he chose to work with Cox and Arquette, Ferguson quipped: “Well, they are very powerful people. They can have you hurt if you say no.”
He said because the show was in development for three years, there was a lot of opportunity for him to have input, something that Cox and Arquette welcomed.
“Courteney and David are very open,” said Ferguson, “very easy to collaborate with because they’re actors. They want to try different ways. So that was very appealing.”
He has already recorded 100 shows for the series, which debuts on Sept. 22. Among the guests on those shows are Cox and Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Vivica Fox, Cheryl Burke, Luke Perry, Mel B and Mena Suvari.
Ferguson cited one celebrity who surprised him: “I was rather shocked and taken aback by the game-playing ability and comedic timing of a certain Mario Lopez. He’s good at his job but he’s a talking head on television. Actually he’s got chops. It was nice to watch.”
He said a surprise for him was when stars revealed how they really feel about other celebrities: “What I kind of enjoy is in the heat of the moment the celebrities being indiscreet about how they really feel about these people. That really makes me laugh. I’m not going to give that away, but there’s some real shocks in there.”
Ferguson said the only game show host he studied was Steve Harvey on Family Feud, because he is so at ease with his hosting choices. Ferguson predicted it will take a while to find his own rhythm — and hopes the show stays on long enough for that to happen.
Ferguson added: “Howard Stern and David Letterman and, in fact, Regis Philbin — who, of course, has hosted a game show — said the thing you have to do with any show is make it your own. So that’s what I’m trying to do here as I develop. I don’t know if it happens in the first 10 shows or 100 shows, but hopefully eventually you find a voice which is yours.”