The new guy in late night TV has started his run. It is The Late Late Show with James Corden on CBS. The program follows Letterman for now and Colbert in a few months. James is replacing Craig Ferguson who hosted Late Late for ten years.
I have been watching Late Late in all it's incarnations since Tom Snyder was the host starting in 1995. Tom was great, it was usually a one-on-one interview. He often had political guests and it was not a comedy show. Craig Kilborn followed Snyder and turned the show into a more traditional late night talk program. There was the usual monologue, some chatter at the desk with a few recurring bits and guests mostly from the entertainment business. It was basically the same as Letterman and Leno. After about five years Craig Ferguson took over. He mostly continued the same basic talk show format for the next ten years with a few twists. Now it is James Corden's turn.
The premier show was on Monday, March 23rd. The show has a small band which none of the previous versions had. The band leader is Reggie Watts, a wild haired keyboard player. Reggie also serves as the show's announcer/sidekick. I have never heard of him, but he seems OK so far. There is also a new set for the show. There is still the standard monologue. There is a traditional desk and a couch. The couch is to Corden's left (viewer's right) which is the opposite of the other late night talk shows. He also comes out from behind the desk to sit next to the couch for the interviews. I don't know if this will be the norm but for the first three shows he has had the two or three guests come out at the same time. It turns into a three or four way conversation rather than a straight interview.
Another change is that so far there have been skits with the guests plus other produced bits. The very first opening was a piece with Jay Leno. I guess Jay has really broken his allegiance to NBC. James also did a musical sketch with Mariah Carey.
The first show had Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis as guests. James did an elaborate and long piece with Tom that covered most of Tom's movies. The second show had Patricia Arquette and Chris Pine. They along with James did a soap opera takeoff. The third show had Will Ferrell and Chris Hart. They played some stupid game. And so it continued. David Beckam was a guest and he and Corden did a fake commercial for underwear. It was reminiscent of the classic Patrick Swayze & Chris Farley SNL Chippendale's sketch. Funny. By about the fifth show they did the whole program from somebody's house.
I thought it was strange that they debuted the show during the NCAA basketball championships. The show was on a couple of days and then off because of the basketball coverage. Same deal the second week including a rerun. It is hard to justify a rerun when a show has fewer than half a dozen episodes in the archive. That's a network snafu in my opinion, not a show problem.
Like most new talk shows this one has some issues. Corden is not a stand-up comic and it shows. The opening monologues are awkward. He is obviously reading the cue cards. He has a nervous laugh at his own jokes. He showed a bar as part of the set that had audience members on the stools on the first show. Haven't seen the bar since.
I noticed that the show has about a dozen writers and several producers. Maybe all these people are necessary to continue with the production pieces. I think it will be nearly impossible to keep up the pace for the long haul. Corden will eventually need to develop as an interviewer and in delivering the monologue. The all guests on the couch right away format may also need some tweeking. The interviews seem disjointed, a question of guest one, then guest two, maybe back to guest one then on to guest three. No continuity. So far there has been very little interaction among the guests, which I assume the producers were hoping for.
James Corden is a pleasant guy but I'm finding that I like him less the more shows I watch. Not a great sign. These shows almost always take a little time to find their sea legs so I will keep on checking the progress or lack thereof. In our recent shuffling of the late night scene, Jimmy Fallon has improved some and has also proved very popular. Seth Meyers has not and to me is mostly unwatchable. Corden seems to be more along the lines of Fallon. He loves everybody, all music, movies, TV shows or plays by his guests are the best ever.
The new Late Late Show is significantly different than the Craig Ferguson version. That was basically an ad lib exercise every night with Craig and his robot skeleton sidekick (Josh Robert Thompson). I think by the end they had about two writers and I have no idea what they did. Craig too started his run with many skits and production bits. It was a better show when Craig and Josh did their ad lib stuff.
So, the BillyJim jury is still out but I'm not optimistic. The new Late Late show so far is over produced, over scripted, trying too hard and maybe lacking the right talent. Maybe worst of all it hasn't been either consistently funny or informative.