One Man, New TV Show: James Corden Takes Over At 'Late Late Night'
A few months ago, Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show, interrogated a special guest: James Corden. When asked what he did for a living, Corden replied demurely, "I don't do anything at the moment."
That is set to change Monday night, when Corden succeeds Ferguson as the host of The Late Late Show.
He is 36 and English. Ferguson is Scottish: Score one for diversity.
Corden has won awards on screen and stage. He starred in the Broadway production of One Man, Two Guvnors, and won a Tony. And he played the best friend of Keira Knightley's character in last year's film Begin Again. But most Americans may know Corden for playing the Baker in the film version of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods.
James Corden has never worked as a talk show host, or a comedian. The topic of late night TV came up when he was in a meeting with American network executives about about a possible sitcom.
"I talked with Leslie Moonves, who's the CEO of CBS," Corden tells NPR's Scott Simon. "And we talked about late night and how I felt it could change, and perhaps be given a breath of fresh air, and then he offered me the job — it was very strange."
Late night TV is a crowded field right now. But Corden says he hopes that coming to the job new might bring in some fresh and untested ideas. "We have got to give it a reason to exist," he says. "It's not enough to rely on fact that there' always been a show. The fact that we're on after a talk show means we have to try and respect and honor the traditions of late night, but in so many ways try and make something that at least feels a little different to the show that's just been on."
Whatever changes he may introduce, the heart of late night remains the interview. Until now, James Corden has always been on the answering end of interviews. But his mother was a social worker, who talked with lots of people.
"I think she would say that being a social worker is more about listening than it is about talking. And I'm sure you agree that's equally as important if you're going to interview people, it's not so much about the question you ask but more about listening to the answer and seeing where it goes after that."
And of course, late night TV is about humor, sometimes a little naughty and pointed. And, with James Corden, British. Craig Ferguson won a devoted audience. Piers Morgan, on CNN, was less successful. Some critics, including Tania Bryer of CNBC, wonder if Corden's British banter might fall flat with an American audience: "The worry is not so much will they understand him in terms of his accent, but it's the humor, will they get the humor?"
Corden himself isn't concerned about humor being lost in translation. "I had never been to New York but I absolutely loved Seinfeld. And I had never been to a bar in America, but I loved Cheers. And I've never been to a hotel in Torquay but I love Fawlty Towers. So of course there are going to be things which I can only really learn by making mistakes in doing them — about colloquialisms, or words in dialogue and things. But I don't know that it will come down to people people understanding my accent or my sense of humor."
If something is good, Corden says, it will travel. He begins his stint on The Late Late Show Monday night — or technically, is that Tuesday morning?
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.