James Corden Hits Late-Night TV With His Own Skill Set And Mindset | KERA News

James Corden Hits Late-Night TV With His Own Skill Set And Mindset

Mar 24, 2015
Originally published on March 24, 2015 1:53 pm
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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Last night, CBS premiered "The Late, Late Show With James Corden," the replacement for Craig Ferguson in the timeslot that follows David Letterman. American audiences might know Corden for his role as the baker in last year's film version of Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods." He's also won a Tony on Broadway and is a star on British TV. Our TV critic David Bianculli has a review of Corden's debut and a look ahead at the future of the late-night TV landscape.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: James Corden opened his first edition of "The Late, Late Show" on CBS last night not with a monologue, but with a promise.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE, LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

JAMES CORDEN: It really isn't lost on me what a privilege it is to be given a show like this. And I will really do my best not to let any of you down, truly.

(APPLAUSE)

BIANCULLI: What followed lived up to that promise. And based on first impressions, Corden will settle in nicely. Like his CBS predecessor Craig Ferguson, Corden walks into the late-night TV arena with his own particular skill set and mindset. I was first wowed by Corden on an edition of the British talk show "The Graham Norton Show." Corden shared couch time with Paul McCartney and Katy Perry. And when their host challenged them all to invent instant rhymes based on the names of studio audience members, it was Corden who was first out of the gate.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW")

GRAHAM NORTON: What's your name?

SHISHA MISO: Shisha Miso (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

NORTON: Say that again?

MISO: Shisha Miso.

CORDEN: Shisha Miso?

MISO: Yeah.

CORDEN: Do you want to share a miso?

(LAUGHTER)

NORTON: You should be so lucky.

(LAUGHTER)

CORDEN: Yeah. Shisha Miso, you should be so lucky to come with me and share a miso.

(LAUGHTER)

BIANCULLI: On his own talk show, James Corden has borrowed a lot from the Graham Norton playbook. Instead of hiding behind a desk, he sits in a chair next to his guests. Instead of bringing them out one at a time, he hosted them all at once - a distinct difference that pays almost instant dividends. On the opening show, Cordens guests were Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis, and the very first question led to a casual, delightful conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE, LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

CORDEN: Now, do you two know each other? Are you friends? Have you...

MILA KUNIS: Yes.

TOM HANKS: We've met a couple - two or three times.

CORDEN: Yeah?

HANKS: Yeah.

CORDEN: But you've never worked together.

KUNIS: Yes, we did a play together.

HANKS: Yes, yes. We did a reading of "You Can't Take It With You," directed by Nora Ephron.

KUNIS: Yeah, yeah.

HANKS: At Royce Hall at UCLA in front of, like, 20,000 screaming fans.

KUNIS: I've never my life been more nervous about anything. And then - since then, I've never done any sort of live anything.

HANKS: One day only. You had - did you not have a love scene with Jon Hamm?

KUNIS: (Laughter) I did.

(LAUGHTER)

BIANCULLI: It's that type of interaction that makes me most hopeful about "The Late, Late Show With James Corden." A talk show where people actually talk is rare these days, and emulating Graham Norton's approach stateside is a shrewd move. That doesn't mean, though, that Corden isn't borrowing from others, as well. Like ABC's Jimmy Kimmel, he enlists celebrities to act in short comedy films. On opening night, Corden imagined himself going through talk show boot camp with help from Meryl Streep, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Leno, who did the comedy monologue teacher equivalent of J.K. Simmons's drum teacher from "Whiplash."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE, LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

CORDEN: The designer of the soy sauce bottle died this week. Per his wishes, he was buried on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOT)

JAY LENO: Are you dragging, or are you rushing?

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: Are you dragging, or are you rushing?

CORDEN: I don't know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAP)

LENO: Are you dragging, or are you rushing?

CORDEN: I don't know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAP)

CORDEN: What are you slapping me for? It's only a comedy show.

LENO: It's only a comedy show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

BIANCULLI: That piece was designed - no doubt - to go viral on the internet, as was a playful performance piece with Tom Hanks that was more like what Jimmy Fallon, the current host of "The Tonight Show," likes to do with his guests. Standing in front of a CGI blue screen that dropped in images from various films, Hanks and Corden burn through wig and costume changes, reenacting rapid-fire snippets from lots and lots of Hanks' movies, starting with the park bench in "Forrest Gump" and the little boys of "Big."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE, LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN")

HANKS: Momma always says life's like a box of chocolates.

CORDEN: You never know what you're going to get.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

TOM HANKS AND JAMES CORDEN: The space goes down, down, baby, down by the rollercoaster. Sweet, sweet, baby. Sweet, sweet, don't let me go. Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop. Shimmy, shimmy, rock. Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop. Shimmy, shimmy, rock. I met a girlfriend - a Triscuit.

BIANCULLI: On his very first show, James Corden demonstrated not only what he could do well, but what he planned to do differently. He's an enticing edition to what already is a dizzying season of change in late-night TV. Stephen Colbert has shut down his "Colbert Report" and, in September, will replace David Letterman brilliantly, I suspect.

And two other former "Daily Show" correspondents already have made their mark and their voices heard. On HBO, the host of "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" has made specialties of extended comic reports on specific issues with more than enough satiric bite to justify their length. And Larry Wilmore, also late of "The Daily Show," can be just as quotable and cutting in his new post as host of Comedy Central's "The Nightly Show," even in the opening teaser.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE NIGHTLY SHOW")

LARRY WILMORE: Tonightly, we're talking Cosby. We'll answer the question did he do it? The answer will be yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BIANCULLI: With Corden replacing Ferguson, Wilmore replacing Colbert and Colbert about to replace Letterman, late-night TV has become a game of musical chairs. And there's one chair left to claim. Who's going to replace John Stewart on "The Daily Show"? It has to be someone funny, fearless, opinionated and with enough clout and perspective to stand up to sacred cows of every political and media perspective. Tina Fey or Amy Poehler would be great, or Chris Rock or Keith Olbermann, if any of them would want to do it. Because of what John Stewart has built, the audience for "The Daily Show" deserves someone of that caliber. But for now, with James Corden as the new host of "The Late, Late Show," the current streak of quality late-night replacements continues.

GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Tomorrow on our show, we talk about Ted Cruz. When he announced his presidential run this week, he said it is time to reclaim the Constitution of the United States. Jeffrey Toobin, who profiled Cruz for The New Yorker, will describe Cruz' constitutional views and what shaped them. Join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.