LOS ANGELES — Over the past 20 years, James Corden’s been a guest on numerous talk shows for his British TV series “Gavin & Stacey” and feature films like “Into the Woods.” He’s answered a lot of questions.
Now, he’s the one who will quiz guests on his new CBS talk show, “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” which launches Monday, March 23. He’s the new tenant in the time slot where Craig Ferguson chatted with guests for a decade.
Corden wasn’t just answering questions during his time on the talk shows. He was paying attention to what the shows did right and wrong. He’s using that knowledge to shape his program.
“It’s about making the show an environment where people feel at ease. We want to make our show a warn place where people feel like they are NEVER going to be blind sided. This will be a show where we absolutely want our guests to shine,” Corden says during an interview in his office on the CBS lot.
In the final few weeks before the show’s launch, everything was coming together. That’s a far cry from a few months ago when Corden faced TV critics at their semi-annual meeting and the only thing certain was he would host.
Now, there’s a set, Reggie Watts has been hired as bandleader, a theme song’s been recorded and guests are being booked, including Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis for the initial broadcast.
The key to making his guest feel comfortable — and in turn making the viewing audience feel at ease with the show — is not what Corden asks, but what he hears. He wants to make sure he is so engaged with what the guest has to say that it will all come across like a natural conversation.
The one word Corden uses to describe the new show is “warmth.”
“We want to make a warm show, a show that never feels spiky,” Corden says. “And because so much of what you see and read and are polluted by is not pleasant right now, and I feel like if we can make a show that just sort of reaches out to people, really, and reminds that there are still wonderful things.”
Corden and executive producers Ben Winston and Rob Crabbe plan to respect the traditions of late-night talk shows, but they want to tailor the program to fit Corden rather than have him deal with the standard formula of monologue, band plays, guest, band plays, say goodnight.
“James is not a traditional stand-up comedian. Straightforward joke telling is not something that he does a ton of, and so we are going to sort of consider other paths besides the traditional monologue,” Crabbe says. “We want to be guest focused. The word ‘warmth’ keeps coming back. Being the host of this great party at 12:30, you want to have your guests have the best time possible.”
That will start with Corden, who is described by those who work with him as a sweet and generous person. He seems legitimately honored to be taking on a show that puts him in the same arena with the likes of David Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and the others who led the way.
Corden’s well aware of the American talk show history, but his influences reflect his upbringing in England. He calls Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross and Michael Parkinson his major influences in this area.
He’ll be going on the air about the time people are either getting ready to nod off or just getting home from a long evening. Corden wants the show to be so engaging that it’s worth waiting another hour before nodding off.
He laughs, saying one idea was to end some episodes with a lullaby. But that may not happen.
“I think for the start, we want to be a show that in every sense feels vibrant and alive,” Corden says.