Late-night television hosts have been at the forefront of figuring out how to stay on during the global coronavirus pandemic. The likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee have been experimenting with online videos and working out how to take them to air.
James Corden, however, has spent his time in lockdown putting together a primetime special, albeit one filmed in his garage. The host of CBS’ The Late Late Show is putting together HomeFest tonight at 10 PM. Production on his daily show, which is produced by CBS Television Studios and his Fulwell 73 company, shut down two weeks ago. Exec produced by Ben Winston and Rob Crabbe, Corden tonight will be encouraging donations to The CDC Foundation and Feed the Children.
Corden tells Deadline it was the speed of the virus and the fallout that was most surprising to him. “One day we were planning how we make the show without an audience and the next day we couldn’t do a show and then we were figuring out what can we do and what should we do. That’s when we started doing this HomeFest show,” he says.
The special will feature live performances from the likes of Dua Lipa in London; K-Pop band BTS, who are all quarantined together in South Korea; as well as Andrea Bocelli singing from his house in Italy, one of the hardest-hit countries.
Corden adds, “We wanted to make a show where essentially we’d bring lots of people together by bringing them apart. The incredible thing about this virus is that we’re all in the same boat, it doesn’t discriminate. Everyone has to stay home, so we figured, what if we could show people staying home and what if we tried to go all over the world to show people that it’s a global crisis.”
The Brit will chat with each guest before they perform, and the show will also feature David Blaine doing a magic trick with Corden and viewers, and Will Ferrell with an instructional video on how to properly wash your hands. The show will end with the entire casts of a Broadway show singing a song from their own homes. “For these artists, these are probably the most intimate performances they’ll ever give,” Corden adds.
Producing the show brought its own challenges. Corden admits it’s the “most bizarre special we’ll ever make.”
“Technically, and from a visual sense, it’s going to be nobody’s finest hour but we hope that people will see the intention of it,” he says. “I’m in my garage on my own with a locked-off camera, my wife told me before I went to the garage that I should put some powder on my face, and then I walked in and turned the cameras on and we started. We just did it. We had our producers on two laptops on a Zoom thing. I don’t know what it will be like, but I know that it will be something.”
Corden admits he hasn’t really processed how to be entertaining or funny during the COVID-19 crisis but believes it’s important to stick together. “I think the important thing is to say, ‘This is how I’ve been feeling.’ It’s important to show that all of this is out of our control so all you can do is look at what you can control, which is your proximity to other people and you can try and put your head in a positive space and think what will someone else need from me. I know we’ve taken on board this phrase of social distancing, but I don’t think we’ve nailed that. I think it’s physical distancing, socially we can be as connected as ever, physically we can’t be together but socially and mentally we can be together. The world has never been more equipped for us to stay connected to each other so that’s where my head has been at.”
He acknowledged it’s a tough situation for everyone and it’s OK to admit that you’re anxious. “We’re all fine but there aren’t days anymore, you’re just awake or asleep. I’m pleased for the distraction of children for large moments of the day. I find if I’m reading or watching the news too much, I get overcome with anxious spikes.”
One of the toughest things is not knowing when things will get back to normal. “Most times when you’re reacting to something, it’s a finite moment, whether that’s a natural disaster or if you think about 9/11. We don’t know when we’ll be in the aftermath of this so mostly I think our job is to say, ‘I feel the same as you, you’re not alone and it’s OK to have those feelings.’ It’s OK to feel sad, frightened and helpless, you’ve almost got to let those feelings wash through you and figure out what can you do. I really think it’s picking up the phone and talking to somebody. I’ve spoken to people this week that I haven’t spoken to in a year. I’ve called old friends and thinking who is on their own,” he adds.
However, in a Western world that has been divided over the last couple of years, whether via the political divide in the U.S. or the Brexit debate in Britain, Corden says it has brought people together. “You’ve been in Britain, which has been as divided as we’d ever felt in our lifetime, and America has felt the same, but in the oddest, most unique way, this virus has unified everybody and it’s a very strange feeling.”
Once HomeFest airs, Corden and his producers’ next challenge is working out what The Late Late Show looks like going forward. He says, “We’re going to try and get back on the air as soon as possible but as soon as we had this idea of this special, we figured let’s try and make that and then we’ll see where we’re at. It’s hard to think about because so much of our show is about interaction. We’ll give it some thought this week and we’ll come up with something and we’ll try and figure it out.”
Corden has regularly taken his Late Late Show to the UK over the last few summers, with CBS working with pay-TV platform Sky to produce a version filmed in London. That looks unlikely this year, with Corden saying, “I can’t imagine that would be able to happen. It would take an unbelievably sharp turnaround that I can’t see that at the moment.”
The other disappointment for the West Ham fan is sports – Corden had tickets to this summer’s European Championships, which have been postponed until next year.
Having just moved from London to Los Angeles less than two weeks ago myself, the cancellation of the English Premier League was a significant moment for people realizing the coronavirus was something to take seriously (Sod’s law, as Liverpool, the team I share with Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, were two games away from winning their first championship in 30 years). Corden says that a similar realization was reached in the U.S. when the NBA was canceled.
It’s a strange time and all eyes will be on his show this evening to offer some distraction and enjoyment. “We’ve tried to make a show that says we’re all in this together and you’re not on your own,” Corden says.