Monday, December 15, 2014

Au Revoir, Craig Ferguson: Why Is Late Night's Funniest Host Leaving?

The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson answers another call
Am I the only person in America who'll miss The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson when it ends its ten-year run on CBS this Friday? Ferguson is a blast of fresh night air. Yes, he can be a bit aloof. He even borders on arrogance now and again. And he flirts a little too aggressively with the starlets who appear on his show. But he is easily the funniest host on late-night television. And he's an underrated interviewer.

Deceptively smart, Ferguson can be utterly silly one minute, then surprise you with an eloquent discourse on abstract artist Jackson Pollock or playwright/poet Samuel Beckett the next. He never relies on predictable pre-interview topics. Instead, he takes his guests and his viewers on spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness journeys no other host would even attempt. But most importantly, he's just funny as hell. No one on TV, at any hour, makes me laugh harder.

Ferguson's unscripted, improvisational back-and-forths each night after the monologue with Geoff Peterson, his gay robot skeleton sidekick, are genius. The animatronic Peterson is voiced and operated by Josh Robert Thompson, a reliably weird and hilarious comic actor.

Each night when Thompson places random phone calls to Ferguson in various voices and dialects, he makes Ferguson, the studio audience, and me, laugh out loud. The "callers," all voiced by Thompson, include everyone from an old-lady stalker to Morgan Freeman to Liam Neeson. There's nothing else like this on television.

The Oddest Couple: Geoff the gay robot skeleton, and Ferguson
A postmodern spin on Bob Newhart's classic telephone routine, the calls, which take wildly unpredictable turns, are the funniest thing on late-night TV since the early days of Letterman's NBC show. 

They're funnier than anything you'll see from Jimmy Kimmell or Jimmy Fallon or even the sometimes still-funny and also soon-to-depart Letterman. And they're much funnier than what you get from Ferguson's direct competition, Seth Meyers, whose smart but smarmy college humor gets tired fast.

Only Conan O'Brien (sometimes) makes me laugh as hard as Ferguson, who's already begun hosting a syndicated game show called Celebrity Name Game based on the board game Identity Crisis

It should be called Celebrity Lame Game. It's harmless fun, I guess, but it's precisely the kind of thing Ferguson, who is genuinely subversive and regularly refers to himself as a "late-night douche," would relentlessly satirize after dark.

Ferguson, a recovering alcoholic who's also worked as an actor, author, punk-rock drummer and bartender, has clearly decided to coast. If only Spy magazine, which deftly lampooned show business coasters, were still around to put him in his place. 

I don't generally respect coasters. But in Ferguson's semi-defense, he did host his irreverent show for a decade. He worked hard to make it fresh and funny.

It was certainly leaps and bounds better than the show of the same name hosted by his predecessor, Craig Kilborn, the former ESPN Sportscenter anchor and original host of The Daily Show who was snarky and cocky without ever being very funny.

Now it appears Ferguson will be doing some standup comedy, but has otherwise decided to kick back and enjoy his wealth. Like his former co-star Drew Carey. Ferguson got his biggest break when Carey hired him t0 play his boss on The Drew Carey Show. That's when Carey was a chubby, funny standup comic. Carey is still likable, but now he's a svelte and rather unfunny host of The Price is Right.

Ferguson and Secretariat, the cocaine-loving pantomime horse
Ferguson wasn't built for daytime. He's too edgy, talented and funny to waste his time on a banal game show. A ground-breaker, Ferguson is the only network talk show host to employ a dancing, cocaine-sniffing pantomime horse named Secretariat.

But the existential Scottsman apparently never really wanted the gig in the first place. When asked if he ever wanted to replace David Letterman, Ferguson told PEOPLE that he "never wanted to be a late night host. I did it because it was fun, entertaining and engaging."

The guest on this Friday's final episode will be Jay Leno. But the unsentimental Ferguson apparently doesn't have any big plans for this final week.

"I don't really make plans," he told PEOPLE. "The show is organic. I'll have people that I would like to make sure to fit in. But I'm not retiring. I'll probably talk to them again in some form. Doing something very big and grand at the end doesn't really seem [to be] in the spirit of the show." 

I'm not sure about Ferguson's replacement, stage and film actor James Corden. He's also a Brit and is a reasonably funny and likable fellow. But I fear his version of The Late Late Show could be a bit more, um, polite. 

Will Corden's show be nauseatingly civil? I'm hoping not. I'm hoping it retains some of the slightly cantankerous, anything-can-happen spirit of Ferguson's show, which was more in the mold of Monty Python's Flying Circus than The David Frost Show

Ferguson and his gang created a bizarre and genuinely fun universe on The Late Late Show, which described itself as "not like any other late night show." Indeed, it wasn't. I'll miss it. But I'll be keeping an eye on the hopefully ascending career of Thompson (who plays the robot skeleton). He has a quick and gifted comedy mind.  

But what, pray tell, will happen to the cocaine-sniffing horse!?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: Doctor Working at Scripps Memorial Charging Cancer Patients $400 an Hour, Insurance Rarely Accepted

The $400-an-hour pain doctor
Readers of this news blog know that I'm a cancer patient and patient advocate and that I don't take crap from doctors and others who gouge cancer patients and others who are sick and in pain. Readers of this blog also know that I've been in chronic, massive pain for several years.

On that note, I called a doctor in San Diego today who specializes in pain. Her office is at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. She is Dr. Nancy Sajben. I found her by simply Googling "San Diego" and "pain." 

She calls herself a "pain management specialist." At Scripps, she sees cancer patients and others who have chronic pain. She says she can treat the difficult cases. I was eager to tell her a bit about my case and see if she could help me and what she has done for others.

To my surprise, she answered the phone directly. It was a cell phone. She was in her car, I could hear the traffic. I briefly told her my cancer story and that I had chronic pain, and that I was a journalist.

She listened, then said she could help me. For $400 an hour. Yes, $400 an hour. She added that she accepts no insurance -- at least not a PPO, or an HMO, which is what I told her I have. 

After my momentary shock, I told her that charging cancer patients in chronic pain -- or anyone for that matter -- $400 an hour was absolutely outrageous. I said her prices were prohibitively, criminally, insanely high. 

I told her that as a working journalist and family man, I don't have that kind of money. I basically told her off. She has clearly heard this beef before. She calmly but smugly told me that she used to be poor. She said she helps people. She said she studied for many years. 

I said that even if all that is true, she only helps wealthy folks who can afford $400 an hour. Others are left out in the cold. Is that what she was taught during her many years of training?

I told her how I felt. Now I'm asking you: please contact this woman and tell her to stop charging so much money to cancer patients and others who are in pain and desperate for help. Her number is 858-622-0500.

Hell, she could charge half of that, even a quarter of that, and still make a very good living. This woman has no shame, no scruples, no compassion and no clue. Hippocratic Oath? What's that?

And please also join me in telling Scripps, which rightly touts the many positive things it does for cancer patients, to take more responsibility for the doctors they house in their own hospitals. 

When I contacted the public relations staff at Scripps and told them about my exchange with Sajben, this is what one of their representatives said to me:

"This [Sajben] is an independent doctor who has her office on the Scripps Memorial Hospital campus (as do a lot of doctors), as well as having privileges at Scripps La Jolla (as do a lot of doctors). She’s not a 'Scripps doctor' in the sense that she’s not part of our Medical Foundation. I’m sorry you’re in pain and hope you find the help you need." 

I then respectfully asked the PR person if Scripps was really comfortable being associated with someone who charges this much to ailing cancer patients, and she said, "She is not our physician. She leases space on our property." 

I then respectfully pointed out to her that Sajben's care is administered inside a Scripps hospital and that this is a tacit (at the very least) endorsement of her care. 

She responded, "She's in private practice." 

Then, finally, she said, "I understand your frustration. It’s not an issue Scripps can speak to because we don’t have any influence over what an independent doctor (whether leasing space in a medical office building on our campus or elsewhere) charges in their private practice."

OK, Scripps. We get it. You take no responsibility whatsoever for the fact that this woman is working in your hospital and paying rent to you, and you have no comment or judgement whatsoever on what this woman is doing while on your grounds. 

She is not an official Scripps physician. Understood. But do patients who see her and see that she is located at Scripps really make that distinction? 

Of course not. Sajben is located at Scripps and she says so on her website. She administers her care inside a Scripps hospital. 

Is Scripps that amoral? Does the hospital really have no comment or opinion on the fact that a doctor working in their hospital charges $400 an hour to suffering cancer patients who are in chronic pain?

By the way, Scripps apparently also accepts patients from Sajben.

Scripps can't set her prices, of course, because while what she charges is surely recognized to anyone with any common decency as immoral and unethical, it is not illegal. And she is technically not a Scripps employee. But they can certainly choose not to let her do business in their hospital.

Sorry, Scripps. You can't just dismiss this and say casually that she is not one of your doctors. You are taking her money and she's hanging out her shingle in your hospital.