“The Late Late Show with James Corden” is a “start-up.” That was the term used during an interview at CBS Studios three weeks ago, as the show was literally still coming together from the ground up, construction noises echoing from the stage. While Corden and executive producers Rob Crabbe and Ben Winston weren’t able to reveal much about their plans for the launch of CBS’ new late night entry, they were able to reveal what will hopefully help them stand out in the current crowded landscape and what America can expect from this unknown new presence.
A Happy Hour That Includes a Cocktail Hour
One element that should help contribute to the idea of creating a congenial atmosphere: A full bar on stage. Though the set-up is meant to invoke a club atmosphere, the bar is only there to serve the guests, not the audience — thus side-stepping the problems that befell “Jimmy Kimmel” in that show’s early run.
Beyond perhaps helping some guests loosen up, the bar element of the set also adds an extra dimension to the way the show can be staged. “Our bar is just an extra chat area,” Winston said. “It’s simply about looking at our set and saying, it’s a 360-degree space. Rather than going, ‘There’s the couch, there’s the desk, there’s a band and there’s the audience,’ it’s about going, ‘What happens if we shoot in that direction, this direction?’ We want to be able to turn the cameras wherever we can.”
And Winston added that it’s also an additional location for unconventional guests: “If we were to have a really interesting character who isn’t necessarily a talk-show guest, but is somebody that we want to chat to who’s in the news that week or who has won a competition, who we don’t necessarily want on the couch, that gives us an extra chat area.”
Having A Party Where Everyone Arrives at Once
One of the show’s key changes to the established American talk show model is that all the guests will be brought on stage at once, and encouraged to talk with both Corden and each other. It’s a format popularized by “The Graham Norton Show” in the UK (“Graham Norton” also has its guests come out with drinks), but American publicists, at the time of our interviews, were a bit baffled by it — though ultimately positive.
“I think that celebrities will like it. I hope that they do. Group conversations just seem more fun,” Crabbe said. “What it’s meant for us is that in the booking of the show, you have to be a little more match-maker than you would have. If you were booking in a regular sense, the guests don’t have to overlap and so you don’t have to concern yourself with it. But in this circumstance you need to think that they might be fun together.”
Tonight’s announced guests are Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis. Tomorrow, Chris Pine and Patricia Arquette will be paired up together. No word yet on what they’ll be drinking.
A Host Who Comes Fresh to the Interviewing Experience
Corden’s work as a performer has stretched from “Doctor Who” guest appearances to Broadway, but he is the first to admit that he lacks interviewing experience. “I’ve never really interviewed anyone before. So I hope so much that I can do it. I hope it can feel like that you’re checking in and watching an organic conversation between groups of people. That would be the most thrilling thing for me.”
And his partners say he’s trying to practice as much as possible. “He is taking advantage of his day-to-day life to interview people,” Crabbe said.
“Yeah, I caught him the other day and his air-con was getting fixed in the office, and he was interviewing the air-con guy,” Winston said. “‘How long have you been in this job? Do you enjoy it? How long does it usually [take to] fix it in a person’s office? Did you work across the whole building or just in this neighborhood?'”
“I think that James is a very good conversationalist. I think that he is someone that’s both interesting and interested. I think that’s a real asset for us as producers; I’m interested in the fun and sketches and dance that we might do in our first show, but I’m also just as interested to eavesdrop on a conversation between Tom Hanks and James Corden,” Winston added. “He might be nervous, he might not be his best. I think it will take him a while, as it does with all of these hosts to really settle into it. But I think the conversations will be something that are a real asset to the show, because I believe he can have them.”
While Corden doesn’t have a ton of interview experience, he is used to being interviewed (at least by the press). What he’s learned from that experience: “So much of it is about warmth and reassurance, and letting someone know that this is a safe environment. That this is never, ever going to be a situation where you’re going to be blindsided in any way. All we really want our guests to do is shine and have a great time.”
Reggie Watts On the Mic
Reggie Watts, the show’s official bandleader, is perhaps the show’s most unconventional choice. A singular figure in the comedy world, Watts blends music and comedy together for improvised magic, and is the furthest thing from a Kevin Eubanks-style “yes man” you might imagine.
“I think the fact that we got Reggie, that Reggie’s going to be on the show every night, is such a secret weapon,” Corden said. “It’s just brilliant. I’m his biggest fan. I feel like I’ve got the luckiest seat in the house because I’m going to get to watch him every night with a band of four, who are musicians that he’s picked. He traveled around the globe meeting drummers or guitar players, finding people who could plug into his sensibilities.”
In an interview with Indiewire’s Eric Kohn, Watts said, “Being a bandleader on a late night talk show still lets me maintain some mystery to what I am. I can exhume some of that dumb craziness, and we’re still making music and improvising — it’s just a band version of what I do live.” Seeing what he does with the gig will be one of the most exciting elements of tonight’s premiere.
Focusing on the Whole Show, Not on Going Viral
The hardest hurdle for “Late Late Show” to clear, ultimately, has nothing to do wiith Corden’s experience; it has to do with the saturated marketplace that is the current late night landscape. One way to conquer the signal-to-noise ratio is by aiming to create moments that go viral, but that comes with its own perils.
“It’d be crazy if we didn’t think about it, because with these shows — because of the way they’re consumed now — as many people are watching them in clip form at their lunch break as they are at night-time. Actually, a lot more are watching them at lunch break, in clip form,” Crabbe (who, prior to “Late Late Show,” was a producer at “The Tonight Show”) said. “So, the online presence is huge for us. That’s going to be the part, I think, where we can have our most immediate impact.”
“We have the youngest host in late night at the moment, and the youngest showrunners,” Winston said. “So therefore, if we weren’t embracing the digital age, then there’d be a problem.”
“But we can’t think in pure terms like that; we can’t limit each piece of comedy to two minutes and 58 seconds because we know that people like clips in three minutes and under,” Crabbe said. “We want people to watch this online, we hope that the material will be strong enough to grab their attention or force them to click to a website when it gets released the next day. But we’re not also letting that need impact what we want to accomplish and showcase on air.”
“If you’re trying to make things for a five-minute bit that will have success virally, then just do that,” was Corden’s thought. “‘The Tonight Show’ is a perfect example where the very best things in the show are the things that get shared. It’s not like there’s ever a thing that doesn’t work in a show, but really kicks off virally. I can see why it might look like that’s what you’re trying for, but what you’re trying to do is make a show that feels really entertaining and is amazing that people go, ‘Did you see this last night?'”
“The success of [‘Jimmy Fallon’] virally was based on the success of that show on broadcast,” Crabbe said. “I guess they each sort of feed each other. For as many people watch his show on television, you can’t escape his show on the Internet. It’s a nice position to be in.”
Added bonus to that “nice position”: Despite Corden’s new home in the US, his show will have a global reach. Winston was able to testify to this: “Everybody in the UK knows about ‘Jimmy Fallon.’ But it’s not broadcast in the UK; it doesn’t have a partner there. It’s simply because those clips go far and wide.”
Going In Knowing They Don’t Know Everything
While there are a lot of different directions the show might go in the future — such as leaning on Watts’ musical talent or Corden’s abilities as a song-and-dance man — the one thing the “Late Late Show” team could reveal was that they’re still not sure what they’re going to do.
“We could prep this show for a year and we’d learn more in the first two weeks of doing it,” Corden said. “Until you get out there and it’s you talking— I still don’t quite know what I’m going to say, because in a sense I would really like the show to feel like it’s organic somehow. That it isn’t a completely fully-formed sort-of thing. These things are going to evolve. No one’s first episode is what their show is, really. And I hope it’s really good. I hope we have the best first episode ever, but I hope in time we look back on our first show and go, ‘Oh my God, can you believe we used to do that?'”
“I feel like it’s going to take America a while to get to know this guy, and let him into their living room and allow him to be the last voice they hear before they go to sleep,” Winston said. “That’s not going to happen overnight. As long as we can make a show that we’re proud of, then I hope over time people will come to us and find it. We’ve just got to be happy with what we’re doing.”
“The Late Late Show with James Corden” premieres tonight at 12:30am on CBS.
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