Opinion: No one knew who James Corden was. Then he made “The Late Late Show” a huge hit



Opinion of Bill Carter for CNN Business Perspectives

Whenever a host leaves an established late-night show, the guessing game begins:

Who will succeed Johnny Carson or David Letterman? Or, in this most recent case, James Cordon at CBS? Corden announced Thursday that he will be leaving “The Late Late Show” next year.

The last time this specific opening happened was in 2014, when Craig Ferguson left as host of “The Late Late Show,” I’ve often been asked who could replace him. I felt some confidence saying that CBS would surely pursue a talented woman to host it because it was such a glaring gap in the late-night story.

Then CBS broke the news that Corden had the job, which not only blew that idea, but any guesses anyone else had made anywhere. I didn’t think of him for a fundamental reason: I had never heard of him.

It was up to me not to follow Broadway very closely, because Corden had already won a Tony Award for the play “One man, two Guvnors”. But, in my defense, who else knew this guy? CBS execs had seen him in the play and decided he was a (correct) big talent, initially thinking he might star in a sitcom. The end of the night didn’t occur to them until after Ferguson had left.

How unknown was Corden? He once told me how, during the weeks of preparation to start his show, he took a break one afternoon for a sandwich, leaving the CBS lot in Los Angeles. When he returned, a guard refused to let him in, saying he had no idea who Corden was. Corden pointed to the huge billboard atop the building advertising his upcoming show. It had his face on it, the size of a baseball field. The guard looked at him, shook his head, and said, “No. I just don’t see it.

Now, seven years later, Corden has had a successful run, bringing a truly original voice (in his case, literally) to late night, and fitting right in with the job’s biggest new requirement: finding creative elements. which can drive online viewing to boost the steadily declining ratings for the evening versions of these shows. Think of Jimmy Kimmel’s “Mean Tweets” or Jimmy Fallon’s “Thank You Notes”, etc.

Corden’s voice – the guy can sing – has been his great asset because his signature song, “Carpool Karaoke”, has become an entertainment industry phenomenon. He is now so popular that almost every major recording artist does the segment with him. (Corden told me he had to beg people at first.)

Well, why not when they see the viewing numbers for the bit? Its automotive collaboration with Adele as of 2016 has garnered over 250 million views on YouTube.

Lesson? If your pool of potential successors is only dominated by the world of male comics and you’re not looking for the outliers somewhere in the UK or South Africa or some obscure corner of the internet, you risk to end up wet – and badly.

In this case, CAS should once again make gender a priority. It’s always kind of a scandal that no woman broke into a late-night show. The talent is there: Samantha Bee on TBS and Amber Ruffin on Peacock (among others) have demonstrated it. Could they manage five nights a week on a network? Why not?

Someone with a sketching background might also be smart: Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live?” Kristen Wiig maybe? What about Robin Thede from “A Black Lady Sketch Show?”

CBS has a few candidates close at hand on its sister network Showtime, where Desus Nice and The Kid Mero of “Desus & Mero” do impressive and original late-night comedy. They would do with creative tracks to play online, albeit a little non-traditional for CBS.

Some people floated CBS by bringing Trevor Noah and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” a corporate bro. But that would be destructive for Comedy Central, and Noah is already in the big leagues with an 11 p.m. show. Why switch to a tracking number in the wee hours, even to a star like Stephen Colbert?

Another fresh and diverse face type, perhaps? Actress and comedian Awkwafina is an intriguing name. Just like the very talented stand-up Ali Wong.

That said, the world is full of funny, talented people I’ve never heard of before – something James Corden has proven conclusively.

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