After months of preparation – and, according to British tabloids, struggles to rid him of British slang American viewers would not comprehend – James Corden made his debut as new host of CBS’s Late Late Show tonight.
Much will be made tomorrow morning of Corden having not actually forsaken the traditional late-night show desk, but at least emerged from behind the desk to chat with his first night’s two guests, Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks – “not my vibe” he explained – though he took his traditional ergonomic desk chair with him.
Expect loads of chatter, too, about Corden having opened the show without a traditional late-night stringing-together-of-topical-gags monologue – though his predecessor Craig Ferguson had already paved that way. Instead, Corden opened with a video explaining how he got the gig, in which CBS CEO Leslie Moonves inserted a golden ticket into one of many candy bars, which were then strewn among the many candidates, real or imagined, whose names the press had bandied about after previous host Craig Ferguson announced his exit: Joel McHale, Chris Rock, Simon Cowell, Lena Dunham, George Lopez, Billy Crystal, Katie Couric, Chelsea Handler, etc. Corden picks up the candy bar dropped by Handler, finds the ticket and heads to Late Night Host School of Training, where he’s waterboarded by Jay Leno, slimmed down by Arnold Schwarzenegger, schooled in the art of laughing at not-funny gags out of the mouths of self absorbed Hollywood A-listers by Allison Janney, and lent moral support by Meryl Streep, until he’s finally ready to make his debut. “In three months, this show is mine!” Leno cackles.
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And there will be a lots of navel lint gazing about Kunis and Hanks having both sat on the couch at the same time which, in the ultra rigid world of late-night TV, passes for format-breaking, “British,” Graham Norton-esque, and Hollywood publicist knicker-knotting. Steel yourself for some finger wagging about the on-set bar – which Corden introduced with a “massive” shout out to sponsor Bud Light – though it’s already being done on Watch What Happens Live, and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel tried something similar, though he had to discontinue his boundary-pushing practice of serving drinks to audience members, when an audience member vomited on a Disney suit the night of his premiere.
Hanks, who said he was “thrown” by having his late-night host not sit behind a desk (and who also appeared uncomfortable being high-fived by studio audience members when compelled to trek down the aisle to get from the green room to stage) discussed his unhappiness with “the internet” having made him the face of subway manspreading. “Hey, Internet — you idiot — the train was half empty!” Hanks shouted, in re the photo of him with his legs crossed on the subway that was making the rounds. “There was plenty of room…I was not manspreading. I was just enjoying a pleasant ride on the No. 2 train.”
Kunis took a more traditional late-night talk show approach, plugging her new jewelry line — a sample of which she gave to Corden.
Earlier today, CBS released a clip of the night’s episode — which was taped Sunday night and what’s up with that? — in which Corden pressed Kunis, in re whether she and Ashton Kutcher are married. In some circles, this was considered big news, and the marital status of the two stars, who have a five-month-old daughter named Wyatt, has been hotly debated. Kunis answered coyly “maybe” when asked a couple times if she and Kutcher are married but, when Corden observed, accurately, “Either you’re married or you’re not,” she finally produced her “wedding finger” which had a ring on it, settling that pressing question once and for all. Or not — some gossip websites immediately responded with word their informed sources called it a ruse, and that the two crazy-in-love pranksters were just messing with Corden.
And, Hanks and Corden performed a composite of Hank’s movie career which, yes, meant Corden played Meg Ryan many times.
Corden, who is a Tony winning actor in addition to his comedy work, wrapped his first show pretending to play a baby grand piano while singing a tune about it being the end of his first show, with lights dimmed and studio audience waving the obligatory electric candles:
That’s all for our first show
And I want to give my heartfelt thanks
to the brilliant Mila Kunis
and the wonderful Tom Hanks.
And I‘ll be right back here tomorrow
and I hope you will be too
For The Late Late Show
With me, and you.
All in all, it was a great recovery from an inauspicious start tonight, when Corden’s lead-in, David Letterman gave him a plug on his show: “It’s a wonderful night here at CBS. James Corden, who’s the kid who is taking over The Late Late Show – that’s the show that follows this show and I know you’re sitting at home saying ‘There’s a show after this one?’ – It’s The Late Late Show’s first night.” Letterman then read from a card: “James is a British actor and comedian, and Tony Award winner. Well, isn’t that special?” Then Letterman began to tell viewers about his recent Caribbean vacation in which he went jogging in new running shoes, when what he really needs is new feet, and the shoes hurt his feet so he took them off and left them on a “traffic cone” and when he went back someone had stolen them, adding, “I wonder if they’ll get this stuff on James Corden’s show?”
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