Monday, March 29, 1999

Craig Kilborn poised for 'Late Late' shot

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Craig Kilborn always fashioned himself as a Letterman kind of guy.

        During his stint as an SportsCenter anchor, he liked to hang out in the ESPN offices wearing a baseball cap and glasses, and smoking cigars.

        Just like Dave.

        Now he's working for David Letterman, and hosting a comedy-interview show at 12:35 a.m., Dave's old time period.

        “I'm following David Letterman which, to me, is the greatest,” said Mr. Kilborn, who replaces Tom Snyder Tuesday as host of The Late Late Show. It airs immediately after CBS' Late Show with David Letterman.

        “(It) is actually a dream come true. Like a lot of people my age, he is The Guy.”

Murray, Mull fan
        Mr. Kilborn, 33, traced his smart aleck style to Mr. Letterman, Bill Murray and Martin Mull. He recalled debating his dad, a Minnesota insurance company vice president, about the relative merits of Mr. Letterman and Johnny Carson.

        “We would spend days arguing in a fun way about who was better. And my dad would always say, "Johnny is so smooth.' And I would say, "Yeah, but Dave has that edge.' ”

        Certainly the 6-foot-5 former Montana State University basketball player will bring more of an edge to CBS' late-night than folksy Mr. Snyder. CBS is giving The Late Late Show a radical makeover to attract younger viewers away from NBC's Conan O'Brien.

        “There's no way we're going to beat Conan,” admitted Rob Burnett, CEO of David Letterman's Worldwide Pants Inc., which owns the Late and Late Late shows. “We're not really focused on that.”

        Mr. Kilborn's show, unavailable for preview, sounded like a mix of Letterman, Dennis Miller, Mr. Kilborn's old Comedy Central Daily Show and Bob Costas' old Later program.

        He'll do an opening monologue and a funny news update. Unlike Mr. Snyder, Mr. Kilborn will have an audience (about 80) in the studio designed to look like the den of a Hollywood hills home.

Side trip in sports
        Those who first saw Mr. Kilborn on ESPN (1993-96) may have wondered how he moved from sidelines to punch lines. But sportscasting was just a side trip on his way to Hollywood.

        “(My) dream was always to get into entertainment — that was the master plan,” he said in 1996 at the Daily Show launch.

        After college, Mr. Kilborn came to Los Angeles to break into show business. He took classes at the Improv comedy club and sent his photo to producers. Nobody cared. So he took a sports anchor job in Savannah, Ga., and worked his way up through Monterey, Calif., to ESPN.

        “My agent had to talk me into going to ESPN. He said I'd become well-known,” Mr. Kilborn said. After a year at ESPN, he wanted out.

        “I didn't want to be stuck as a sports anchor. It was time to grow up a little,” he said.

        Those who saw his Daily Show will again see him dance and ask nightly guests “Five Questions,” a mix of serious and snide inquiries from the Comedy Central program.

        He once asked John Tesh: “Would you rather take a swing at Michael Bolton or Yanni?” (Mr. Tesh replied: “Bolton.”)

Less mean-spirited
        He won't change his style moving from the crude South Park network to the home of Touched by an Angel.

        “I'm going to do the same jokes that I did at The Daily Show, that I liked,” he said. “There were some jokes at the Daily Show that I thought were a little too mean-spirited, that I didn't care for, but I was talked into doing them.”

        And he'll keep his guard up during media interviews. He was suspended by Comedy Central for a week in 1997 for using a slang term to an Esquire reporter referring to Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead and her staff.

        “I regret that the incident happened. I was being facetious when I said, "You can print that,' and I think the reporter knew I was being facetious,” he said. “It's not a joke I'm very proud of.”

        Can he carry an hour show?

        “CBS and Worldwide Pants did separate research, OK? And they came to the same conclusion,” he said. “Based on my personality, I can carry a show for 12 minutes — and that includes two commercials breaks.”

New audience
        Mr. Burnett said the former ESPN anchor was “at the top of the list” to replace Mr. Snyder, who signed off Friday after 40 years in broadcasting.

        “I don't expect to keep a ton of Tom's core audience, (but) we'll probably take a lot of Craig's core audience. I don't know how that will come out in the wash,” Mr. Burnett said.

        “My hope is that if the show is good,” Mr. Burnett said, “that it will grow and eventually people will find it, and hopefully we'll do fine.”

        Just like Conan did replacing Dave in 1992.

        What: The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn

        When: 12:35 a.m. late Tuesday/early Wednesday

        Where: Channel 12

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.


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