A little over one month after the rumors began, CBS yesterday formally announced that actor, writer and producer James Corden -- a giant entertainment personality in the United Kingdom -- is going to become the host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show” sometime in 2015 -- presumably sooner rather than later, since longtime host Craig Ferguson will be leaving the program near the end of 2014.
Corden now officially joins Seth Meyers as one of the first members of the next generation of late-night talk and entertainment hosts -- a list that may also include Andy Cohen of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” and Chris Hardwick of Comedy Central’s “@midnight.” And then there’s Chelsea Handler, who has left her gig as a late-night talk and comedy host on E! to develop a mysterious new program for Netflix that has been described as a new take on the talk show format.
Although known primarily as one of Britain’s biggest stars, Corden is no stranger to the American public, either. He was honored with a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Play two years ago for his performance in the comedy “One Man, Two Guvnors” and before that was part of the ensemble in the hit “The History Boys,” which won the Tony for Best Play. (Both plays were first produced to similar acclaim on London’s West End before moving to Broadway.) Corden also starred in the hit British sitcom “Gavin & Stacey” (seen here on BBC America) for which he was honored with a BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance. Corden also co-created and co-wrote that series.
The uncommonly busy Corden is currently starring in the theatrical film “Begin Again” with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley and co-stars in the upcoming feature “Into the Woods” with Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, a high-profile holiday season release. He also stars in, produces and writes the comedy thriller “The Wrong Mans,” a BBC series seen on Hulu.
His “Late Late Show” gig won’t be his first shot at hosting; Corden also hosts the sports-themed comedy game show “A League of Their Own” on Britain’s Sky 1.
When rumors began in late July and early August that Corden might take over “The Late Late Show” after Ferguson departs, the “news,” as it were, was received with unanimous enthusiasm in the press. That certainly had a lot to do with the highlights of Corden’s resume, as noted above. But as I said at the time, for me the idea that Corden might soon take over as host of an established American late night talk show immediately brought to mind thoughts of Britain’s “The Graham Norton Show.”
From where I sit, “Graham Norton” is the most consistently entertaining talk show of any kind anywhere, and one on which Corden has appeared more than once as a guest. Nobody does it better than Norton; it’s hard for even the driest guests not to be amusing on his show once he gets them going, or once all of the guests who typically crowd onto Norton’s red couch start playing off each other, as they invariably do, especially with a funnyman like Corden in the mix.
Which reminds me … one of Norton’s most reliably hysterical guests was the late Joan Rivers, who once attempted to convince Norton to indulge in a little plastic surgery around his eyes. She even offered to set him up with one of her own surgeons.
I think her most memorable remark on Norton’s show may have been her observation that openly gay British actor and singer John Barrowman “looks like a straight Tom Cruise.”
I can only imagine the kind of fun Corden would have had with Rivers on his show. But I digress.
As I have noted before, I have often wished that one of the broadcast or cable networks here would try to put together a talk show styled after Norton’s in which a comparably witty host gathered impressive ensembles of guests each night and interacted with all of them at once. Assuming that a few changes are made to “The Late Late Show” to make it Corden’s own, maybe this will be it. (In fairness, I should note that Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” comes very close. The big difference is that while he is chatty and charming, Andy Cohen isn’t especially funny.)
I realize that Norton-worthy, high-wattage groups of stars cannot be assembled every night on any show -- especially in this country where managers and publicists wouldn’t hear of their clients having to share the spotlight with so many other celebrities at the same time, but I can dream can’t I? I also realize that Norton’s show is once a week and does not run every week of the year, making it easier to stack impressive guests. Still, even if A-listers are in short supply or carefully controlled here, there is no shortage of interesting B- and C- listers who would make themselves available to a man as comically gifted as Corden at a moment’s notice.
I certainly hope that Corden and his producers will take full advantage of whatever creative freedom they are given and strive to reinvent the format a bit. Regardless, I am certain that this host with the most will be worth staying up for.