Craig Ferguson’s new gig: ‘Celebrity Name Game’

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Craig Ferguson may not have his Late, Late Show for much longer (it ends in December), but there’s no jumping off the TV bandwagon yet. The high-energy Scot, 52, is back Monday evening, hosting Celebrity Name Game, a half-hour game show for pop culture experts. Executive produced by Courteney Cox and David Arquette, the program, airing at 7:30 weeknights on SFL-TV, pairs star guests with contestants to identify famous names — actors, singers, athletes, pop culture figures, politicians, even cartoon characters — with the aid of improvised clues. Over the course of three speed-rounds, teams can win up to $20,000. We chatted with Ferguson before the big debut:

Did you study or look at other game shows for tips?

The truth is I approach this the way I came into late-night, which is I kind of drifted into it. Of course I was aware of it, but it wasn’t like a big part of my world. So, yes, I’ve looked at other hosts, but if you know anything about me, and the recent news will confirm it, I don’t want to do anything for 30 years. A 10-year run in late-night is long enough for me, and 10 years of doing this, if we should be so lucky, will be just fine. I don’t want to do it forever. The idea of watching other hosts not really, maybe a little bit of Steve Harvey at Family Feud, because he exists as himself inside it; he doesn’t approach it like it’s the way a standup [comedian] approaches it. Hopefully, eventually, you find a voice which is yours.

How different is this project and how similar to what you have been doing?

It’s exactly the same way of approaching late-night. There was a bunch of game show formats around, but this one works for me because it’s the loosest in the terms of there’s not a lot of crap that I need to get through and explain. It’s a pretty easy game, so it’s wide open for improvisation. [On] late night, you have to have a monologue, you have to have a sidekick, have to have a band, you have to do this, you have whatever it is.

Of the people who are going to be taking part in the game show, have any been prior guests?

There’s definitely people that are crossover guests because I kind of want to be around friendly faces. Like Lisa Kudrow, who’s been on my show a lot. But there’s also like Sheryl Crow — people you wouldn’t expect to see. And then, of course, I made Courteney and David do at least a few episodes each, so it’s kind of it’s a mixture of both. The good thing about having a celebrity on a game show is that all you have to do is play the game. It helps you relax; there’s less pressure.

Have there been any challenges thus far?

There’s round three of the game where I have to give the clues to who the celebrity is, and sometimes the contestants, as will happen in any game, just don’t know who the hell I’m talking about. So last week I was doing a show where I said the answer to the question was Anna Paquin, and no one has to press a buzzer and say the name. So I said to the contestants, “All right, I give in. The answer is Anna Paquin.” And then still I had to say it twice, because they didn’t expect it. And then we had the same trouble in the next part with the next question — the answer was Dennis Quaid, and I said, “All right, it rhymes with Mennis Wade,” and someone pressed the buzzer and said, “Mennis Wade.” I kind of love that kind of disaster. I want it to be as informal and as messy as possible.

Because of the nature of the game, you need people who have fairly significant name recognition to make this work. What level of stars will you use?

There are people, my kids will see somebody and go, “That guy’s really famous,” and I have no idea who it is. Things are a little more diverse than they used to be. Of course, the producers are going for big name recognition, and there’s some pretty heavy hitters in this first season, but I think it’s more about affability and being able to play the game. What an 18-year old thinks is a big star I think maybe a 50-year old might have a different idea. If, for example, someone gets a clue that the answer is Alfred Hitchcock it’s interesting to watch someone under the age of 30 try to deal with that.

You started out as an actor, and many people still know you from “The Drew Carey Show.” How did you get here, you think?

I think it’s what happens if you’re a high school dropout and you don’t make a plan that you ultimately end up hosting a game show. Because it’s kind of I didn’t have a plan; I’ve always kind of done the thing in front of me. The only through line in all of it really is I always did stand up, and I’ve always done that, even back when I was in the band I always did stand up even then. That’s the kind of ink, that’s the thread. It’s a skill, which I think has many different areas where it can be of use.