Clark Collis
June 25, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

He was a successful late-night host who disappeared. Now Kilborn’s back with a new show, but where has he been?

In August 2004, Craig Kilborn unexpectedly quit CBS’ The Late Late Show, which he had hosted for five years. At the time, Kilborn — who had previously anchored SportsCenter and been the original host of The Daily Show — said that he simply wanted ”to try something new.” Instead, he simply vanished. But ”Craiggers” is back with a syndicated show, The Kilborn File, which premieres June 28 for a trial run on Fox stations in seven markets and will mostly air during the early evening. So what prompted Kilborn, 47, to quit TV? Why is he returning now to the small screen? And what on earth has he been doing?

Why did you leave The Late Late Show?
I accomplished my career goals and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The format was repetitive. And there is a dysfunction to Hollywood. I pride myself on being down-to-earth. I’m from the Midwest. People who go into show business are screwed up. I romanticized about having a serene life.

I think people will assume there is more to the story than that.
That’s the joy of life. No one has to believe anything.

It was widely rumored that you were playing hardball over your contract and that, basically, you were the one who blinked first.
No. They offered me very, very good money to re-sign. But I was never going to re-sign. I know that some people might not get it. I’m sensing that you might not get it.

Well, you can understand why people might think there was more to your leaving than you’re letting on.
Yeah, yeah. I heard two things. I heard it was over money, and it wasn’t. And I heard, ”Oh, he wants to do a scripted something.” And I did write a half-hour sitcom about a newspaper columnist in Chicago. But it’s different from a talk show. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. I was like, ”Let’s pause on that.”

What else did you do during your time away? Describe an average Monday.
Read the papers online. Listen to the local jazz station. Turner Classic Movies — I’m obsessed with Hitchcock. I like to make pulled pork, but it’s not healthy, so I make fish stew. And I drink moderately priced red wine. Is $70 a bottle moderately priced? I’ve lost touch.

Did you see The Onion‘s fake headline ”Gin-Soaked Craig Kilborn Shows Up Broke, Homeless at SportsCenter Studio”?
Yeah, it’s funny. Good for them.

Why come back now?
It’s the first comedic, topical show at dinnertime. I thought that was cool.

You own The Kilborn File?
It’s not ownership. But it’s profit participation. It’s a good business model.

What can we expect from the show?
It’s half-hour, it’s four acts. It’s pop culture current events. We’ll do something with a panel — we did a little test and we had Ben Stein and Tom Arnold, and you do a topic that’s comedic. I’ll do a guest. And I’ll do ”Five Questions.”

Both Jon Stewart and Craig Ferguson are enjoying huge success hosting shows you left. Has either called to say ”Thanks for the job!”
I interviewed Jon on The Daily Show and wished him well. And I called Ferguson on his first day to wish him well. And that got back to me more than once that he appreciated that. What Jon does is tremendous, and I like the uniqueness of Ferguson’s energy. And I like creating jobs for people!

When we announced on that you were returning to television, half the commenters wrote that you were one of the funniest people ever to appear on late-night and the other half were of the opinion that you were an arrogant a–hole. Why are you such a polarizing figure?
My brother asked me once, ”Are you a misanthrope?” And I said, ”No, I just find people irritating.” I think mankind is overly sensitive, very needy, greedy, and flawed. When I do what I do, I like to entertain the good people, and I like to push buttons with the people that I mentioned before. I could argue that I’m doing it to help them, I’m defusing their anger.

But you actually seem to be fueling their anger.
Well, I think I’m going to hopefully wear them out so they go, ”Okay, I’ll laugh!”

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