Kilborn to Run

At this writing, it's still too early to tell whether the new edition of CBS' The Late Late Show, with smart aleck Craig Kilborn replacing schmooze master Tom Snyder, will produce huzzahs, or a nationwide voicing of the question, "I wonder who's on Conan tonight?" If the new host seems a bit logy in his first few outings, it may be that he's insufficiently rested after a crazed affiliate-flesh-pressing tour that followed March Madness around the lower 48, concluding in Florida on the eve of Kilborn's late-night debut on Tuesday, March 30.

This tour stopped in Phoenix on Thursday, March 18, for the Iowa/Connecticut and Gonzaga/Florida match-ups. Afterward, Kilborn was the guest of honor for a party at Alice Cooper'stown, sponsored by CBS Channel 5 and Valley "romance headhunter" Roseann Higgins. "CBS 5 asked me if I could bring together a hundred single people for a party with Craig Kilborn," says Higgins, "because single people are the demographic they're after for his show--they're the ones who stay up late."

"His parents came up, too--they live in Tucson," Higgins adds. Apparently, however, the folks share both Kilborn's passion for basketball and his storied warmth: "They said they didn't come up to see him, they came for the games."

On the following morning Kilborn was shipped off to the desert near Cave Creek to shoot a promo for Channel 5--the one you may already have seen, in which he appears, casually tanning himself beneath a saguaro. By the time Kilborn returned from the morning-long shoot and was dropped off by a red, comically long Hummer limo at Eddie Matney's Epicurean Trio for some last minute media meet-and-greet, neither he nor his fretful CBS handlers were nearly so at ease.

The harried ESPN and Comedy Central alumnus, beat and surly, had little more than an hour to catch his plane to Knoxville. He wanted to eat, and he still had three more interviews to do. I was the last of the three.

As Kilborn chatted with newsanchor June Thomson, and then with Higgins, who also contributes to the indispensable bizAZ magazine, I overheard two of Kilborn's handlers discussing whether they might persuade Governer Jane Dee Hull, who was said to be having lunch in the restaurant, to pose for a photograph with the new host. One of the handlers doubted that the guv would know who Kilborn is, a suggestion to which the other replied, with a straight face, "Somebody needs to explain to her what a coup this would be."

Inevitably, time ran out before I could sit down with Kilborn at Eddie Matney's. Would I mind, I was asked, doing the interview while riding to the airport in the Hummer? I piled in with Kilborn and a CBS flack, who was trying to hide his panic at their lateness. Once we were underway, I was able to observe two things: First, Kilborn, who himself played basketball for Montana State--he says he led the team in turnovers--is a truly enormous man. In the low-ceilinged back of the Hummer, he had to hunker down and extend his long legs forward. Second, he was more than just beat--he was exhausted, almost in a stupor. He could barely keep his head upright as he tried to answer my questions, no doubt the same inane questions he'd been asked in every town.

"Did I mention I love Phoenix?" he asked woozily. Had he been here before? "A couple of times, but not enough."

Down to business. How different would the show be from Snyder's? "I think it'll be totally different. CBS wanted to go for a younger demo, so they wanted comedy. I don't think Tom Snyder's show is comedy. He's a legendary interviewer, a legendary broadcaster."

Kilborn is an interviewer too, of course, but of a different sort: "The interviewing style I had at The Daily Show was to poke fun at the person, and let them poke fun at me. It was a spirited conversation. But I'm looking forward to the interviews on the new show because they'll be longer. On The Daily Show they were too short. We weren't able to stay on one topic long enough; we had to jump around."

Does Kilborn see himself as competing with Conan O'Brien? "I think we're competing, right now, with ourselves. I want to create the show I want, and I want to get it to where I want it. We're on the five-to-10-year plan. Conan's got a nice head start, plus it's a different show--he's got a sidekick and a band." Kilborn will have neither, though he will have a live audience, and musical guests on Fridays.

I wrapped up with a standard question: Who does he regard as his major influences?

"Who was that woman who interviewed me before you did?"
June Thomson?
Kilborn nodded. "Her. No, no. Bill Murray and David Letterman. That's usually how I answer that."

--M. V. Moorhead

The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn is seen weeknights at 12:05 a.m. on CBS Channel 5.