It’s another big night of late night transition. Following the final episode of “The Colbert Report,” with its cast of 100 or so singalong celebrities Thursday, tonight is also the last night of “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” (CBS, 12:37 a.m.).
The Scottish import acquitted himself well in a redeye-slot where he could spin out his own personal yarns and top-of-the-head monologues as well actually converse with guests rather than have them recite planned topics or plug current projects. He had his own extreme quirks, including a long running co-host who was a skeleton puppet and he’s skipping on, taking a lead from the lead-in, while he has time to tackle many other things. Ferguson’s last guest is someone who knows a little bit about leaving late night: Jay Leno. Fergie’s replacement in March will be another member of the UK not well known stateside, the comic actor James Corben, whose new bandleader will be Reggie Watts, who happens to be part of the season finale of “Comedy Bang! Bang!” (IFC, 11 p.m.) with Scott Aukerman.
Ferguson’s departure is part of a whole cloth Worldwide Pants change in 2015 marked by next spring’s final “The Late Show with David Letterman” (CBS, 11:35 p.m.) in May. Tonight, though, is the final time for one of TV’s great holiday traditions. It means Jay Thomas (who is scarcely seen on TV otherwise) will tell his tale about the Lone Ranger, he and the host will throw a football at the meatball atop the Christmas tree, and especially, Darlene Love will belt out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with Paul Shafer and the band, a gooseflesh-raising event that should probably be topped by “Auld Lang Syne” for the occasion.
What a swell night for TV (for a Friday, too): It’s the surprise broadcast return of my favorite animated holiday special, one that predated Charlie Brown’s by two years, “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (The CW, 8 p.m.), which for all the many variations of the Dickens story, may be the best. It certainly has the best score with songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill that are just now starting to get wider recognition — a concert of the songs was just staged this week in New York. There is more reason to cheer tonight’s return: Unlike NBC’s 50th anniversary showing which chopped eight minutes off the original hour (essentially the whole Broadway framing device and more), this one has plenty of time to show the whole thing within 90 minutes and still have time for a half hour of ads. It’s all because DreamWorks owns the right to the classic now — and will be following it with its own “Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special” (The CW, 9:30 p.m.).