NBC may have turned its late-night lineup into SNL Alum Theatre — but CBS this morning unveiled plans for a sort of late night Great White Way. In announcing James Corden as Craig Ferguson’s replacement for Late Late Show, the network made note Corden had attracted international attention as the lead in the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors, first at the National Theatre and on the West End in London and then on Broadway, where he won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Play.
Additional theater credits include the worldwide tour of The History Boys in the lead role of Timms, whom he also played in the feature film adaptation. A spring 2015 Broadway revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum had been planned around Corden when he got the Late Late Show offer. He also will star opposite Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and Emily Blunt in the feature adaptation of Broadway musical Into the Woods, which hits theaters in December.
In a phone interview with Deadline, CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler said Corden was picked because, among other qualifications, he and David Letterman’s replacement Stephen Colbert “complement each other.” Where Colbert is known for his razor wit, Corden seduces with cuddliness, though he’s also very sharp. Corden has a gift for physical comedy, a star’s grace in a clown’s body, that gets audiences giddy.
“They’re both actors, both very solid on their feet,” Tassler said. “I love the way Stephen can move, the way James can move,” she said, noting both men can sing and dance. Describing Corden as “a cross between Fred Astaire and Jack Black,” Tassler said she expects him to put these skills sets to use on the new show, explaining” In this day and age when you’ve got someone who can write, perform, sing, dance and is very comfortable flying without a net it’s a rare commodity.”
“The man is fearless. You really have to stand somewhat in awe and appreciation for someone who operates at that level.”
She was describing Corden, in response to questions about today’s announcement, but the description also is an apt one for Colbert, who’s been tapped to take over Late Show after David Letterman retires from the franchise sometime in 2015, and may provide clues as to how Colbert will develop his new show as he moves away from the faux-newsman character he’s played for a decade in late night on Comedy Central. Both Colbert and CBS have said he will not bring his faux newsman, nor his faux news show, with him to CBS.
She said Corden first came to her attention when she saw him in The History Boys “and he stood out,” and that CBS has been “tracking him in the comedy scripted world for years” since he co-created and co-starred in BBC’s Gavin & Stacey and starred in BBC3’s Corden & Horne.
Signing a known name like Colbert to the earlier late-night show made it easier to go with a relative unknown for the later one. “I think it did allow us to really explore a lot of different choices,” said said, while noting Corden was always at the top of the list. “Audiences like making discoveries,” she noted.
Expect the show to change its format noticeably but, despite that, to go on the air fairly quickly, because Corden’s already worked on other talk/comedy/sketch programs and so is not starting from scratch. And, the new show will have a band (something Ferguson wanted, but never got in his 10-year run on Late Late Show — during much of which his show was produced for CBS by Worldwide Pants). “He has expressed interest in that — it’s all being worked out,” Tassler said.
Colbert’s show will be based in New York, but Tassler says there’s still no decision as to whether Corden’s will as well, though he’s lived there before while starring on Broadway.