CBS Chief Nina Tassler Talks Courting New 'Late Late Show' Host James Corden

James Corden Headshot - H 2014
AP Images/Invision

James Corden Headshot - H 2014

‎CBS' choice to host The Late Late Show, British comic James Corden, was anything but conventional.

In fact, when the network's pick to replace Craig Ferguson first leaked in early August, many found that they needed to conduct a Web search of his name. What turned up: a social media following of 4.4 million on Twitter and a prolific resume that includes TV (Gavin & Stacey), theater (One Man, Two Guvnors) and film (Begin Again, co-starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley).

In making the formal announcement earlier today, CBS said only that Corden's show will make its debut in 2015. The format, producers and geographic locale will be revealed at a later date. Corden's Late Late Show will be paired later in the year by a Stephen Colbert-fronted Late Show, which will replace outgoing David Letterman's long-running iteration at some point mid-year.

CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler, who met with several others before deciding on Corden, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the choice, both the lead-up and the opportunity.

Let's begin with the most obvious question: How did you land on James Corden?

We’ve been long-standing fans. I first saw him in History Boys, and he’s just a standout. In this day and age, certain actors come to your attention and you can’t stop following them, and James is one of those talents. He has more multi-hyphenates in his resume than anyone I’ve seen in a long time. To me, he’s like a cross between Fred Astaire and Jack Black. He just has an incredible range; everything he does has been so distinctive, and his comedy has been very specific very fresh and very funny.

How many of those different skills do you expect to see utilized in his late night show? Will we see sketch in there, for instance?

He has so many ideas, and he’s working on the creative now. He’s very familiar with the American format, and he’s very U.S.-centric in terms of his tastes and his sensibility. He can sing, he can dance, he can write, he can do sketch. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do, so I think he’s going to spend a lot of time and energy really working on what the specific format will be.

You’ve been vocal about your desire to find something that seems fresh in a late night landscape that feels like a lot of the same. How much did that factor in as you were meeting with many, many candidates in recent months?

That was a big component. The thing about James is, he’s comedically fearless. He’s young, he’s very bright and he’s looking at this as an opportunity to experiment in the form. At the same time, he’s very savvy and very smart about what late night means to audiences and what late night audiences are looking for. So we were focused on finding someone who had a very big bag of tricks, and he does.

In an era where a late night's digital presence is key, I imagine the fact that he has 4.4 million Twitter followers was vital, too?


Any concerns about going with someone who is untested by American audiences?

I think that in this day and age, audiences like to be a part of the discovery process. And once they begin to seek out his content on their own, they’re going to love what they see.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in late night. Did you feel any pressure to change that? And in the end, why didn't you?

We took a long time to make this decision, and we met and considered a number of diverse candidates. But at the end of the day, we were just blown away by him. Again, when you look at the number of hyphenates he has on his resume as a creator, a singer, a dancer, a performer that’s what we had to respond to.

The Late Late Show franchise isn’t as valuable as it once was. For that reason, did you feel freer to take a bigger risk?

I think we always take risks. The very nature of our business is about taking risks. We’re doing that. But we certainly believe in the day part, as evidenced by the choice in Stephen Colbert. Look, we certainly saw it as a risk, but also as a great opportunity, and we didn’t want to pass up the chance to make a discovery and offer someone new, young, fresh and exciting.

The Late Late Show has lagged behind NBC’s Late Night for some time. Do you see this as an opportunity to pull ahead there?

That’s always the goal. There are a lot of exciting voices now in late night TV, and we think James is a fantastic addition, and we feel like there’s a lot of upside for us.