This was my first TV article I ever got published. I wrote it while unemployed after college. The Late Late Show had just started, “Carpool Karaoke” hadn’t blown up yet, and nobody was really covering the show outside of a few basic recaps. A few hours after it ran on Splitsider, my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize from Los Angeles. I answered, thinking it might be about a job I had just interviewed for. It wasn’t.
“I’m calling from The Late Late Show with James Corden. I’m going to put James on the line for you.”
James got on the phone, said he liked the article, thanked me for the coverage and kind words: “For someone to write an article like that about us after being on the air for a year would be one thing, but after only being on the air for seven days?”
He talked about his show and how excited he was for Colbert to premiere as his lead-in that coming fall.
And such is how, for five minutes, alone in my parents’ house on Long Island, unemployed and in my pajamas at 2 p.m., I took the best phone call of my life.
There have been seven good episodes of The Late Late Show with James Corden so far. While that may sound low, it’s actually a solid batting average, considering they’ve only been on the air for seven days. Late night programming is a beast of an endeavor, and it’s well-known that it takes time for new shows to find their footing. This makes The Late Late Show’s current state even more impressive. The show is remarkably on point — and it’s not just great for a show in its infancy; it’s simply great for a show, period. It will be exciting to see how the identity of the show develops going forward, but here are some things The Late Late Show is already doing right.
The Carefully Broken Format
The traditional late night format (monologue, desk, guest, guest, band) has been around so long because it works, and it works because it’s familiar. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be shaken up. In fact, in the ever-broadening homogeny of the talk show landscape, it’s not only a welcome change, but a necessary one. The key is to do it sparingly. Familiarity is important — especially at 12:35, when the challenge is not only getting viewers to tune in, but getting them to stay awake as well. Corden has done this well, in ways both small and big.
A couple of the subtler ones appear at the top: rather than kicking things off with an opening sequence, Corden starts the show with a cold open of sorts, being announced by band leader Reggie Watts and doing the monologue before throwing it to the opening with a triumphant call of “Roll the titles!”
In that opening is another understated but sharp change: rather than simply announcing that night’s guests, he checks in with them in their dressing rooms, knocking on their door via video.
The Group Interview
Most prominently, Corden brings out all of his guests at once. There’s usually three of them, and Corden bounces back and forth to each one with their own specific questions. The conversational transitions this requires can be challenging, but Corden pulls it off rather effortlessly. Influenced by the UK’s Graham Norton Show, this refreshing interview style creates a more fun atmosphere, and arguably even makes the interviews feel less like the publicity campaigns that they really are. Plus, it could help keep any eyeballs only interested in one guest glued to the TV for the entirety of the show. Aided by the dressing room pop-ins at the top, the guests on The Late Late Show feel more like they are a part of the show.
The Monologue, or Lack Thereof
Much like Craig Ferguson did in his tenure as host, Corden has abandoned the traditional late night monologue. At most so far, he has stuck to one longer rant on a single topic, such as California’s water shortage or McDonald’s new all-day breakfast. But the greatest example of what this segment could achieve is when Corden’s sex education monologue devolved into him telling an embarrassing personal story at the expense of his parents, who were sitting in the audience.
It’s no secret that the ability to play on the web is an important part of any talk show in this era of fragmented viewing. Fallon does it, Kimmel does it, and those who don’t do it aren’t being talked about because they don’t do it. Luckily, Corden’s doing it, too. From his star-studded (and endearing) introductory taped piece to his seven-minute mashup of Tom Hanks movies featuring the actor himself, Corden already has five comedy segments that have garnered more than a million views each on Youtube 00 one each from five of the last seven episodes. In fact, the Tom Hanks tribute (which is also perhaps the best showcase of who Corden is) has earned twelve million views alone in the two weeks since it was posted. Corden has been dominating the online conversation as well, with Nielsen Social deeming it the most-talked about show in its time period, and second overall among all late night shows, behind only The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
On only his seventh show, Corden took The Late Late Show out of the studio and to the streets. Starting the broadcast from a dark suburban street near his studio, he explained the goal was to shoot an entire show in a stranger’s house. After an entertaining few minutes of Corden knocking on doors and trying to convince people to let him and his crew inside, they found a willing participant. What resulted was an hour of joyful brilliance featuring Jeff Goldblum, an exotic animal wrangler, a game of hide-and-seek, and a musical performance by Beck — all from the living room of a dazed and starstruck guy named Tommy.
The whole endeavor signals Corden’s openness to experimenting with the genre and loosening things up, much in the way that Conan or Letterman did during their respective stints in the 12:35 time slot on Late Night. It was a surprisingly solid show, despite the lack of space or laughter from a studio audience, and it found Corden at his most candid. Corden had teased the experiment at the end of his broadcast the night before, warning, ”We’re going to try something, and it might not work.” Instead, he put on one of the most memorable episodes of a late night show in years.
A set at its best is a home for the host, and Corden is definitely making himself at home. He abandons his desk during interviews, talking to guests on the couch from only a swivel-chair. The guests enter from behind the audience, immersed in the crowd. There’s also a bar on the set, and though it hasn’t really been incorporated so far, it creates a nice vibe, which is the real purpose of such set design elements.
Most importantly, the show uses the set as a playground. Corden ended his fifth show with an outro not from his desk, but beside Reggie Watts on the band’s platform. Even the guests have put the set to good use: Musician Olly Murs’ started his performance from the guest entryway behind the crowd, incorporating the audience and even dancing with Corden on home base before ending in the musical guest’s typical spot on the studio floor.
Reggie Watts brings energy and humor to the show as bandleader, but he also has more to offer. Having such an alternative comedian beside a more traditional entertainer like Corden provides The Late Late Show the opportunity to experiment and stretch its voice in two different directions without being too jarring. There’s a nice bit of tonal diversity between the two performers, and yet they blend together quite well.
Corden’s closing number on opening night pretty much says it all.
Nick Riccardo writes about TV sometimes.