How James Corden Built a YouTube-Centric 'Late Late Show'

Monty Brinton/CBS
'The Late Late Show'

Tyler Oakley, Jenna Marbles and a host of online stars stop by the Aug. 21 episode shot on location at YouTube Space LA.

The sun is just beginning to set on a warm August day in Playa Vista when James Corden rolls up to the front door of YouTube Space LA in the back of a black convertible singing a ditty with oft-mocked “Friday” chanteuse Rebecca Black at his side. Soon they are flanked by a man dressed as a banana, a person in a full panda suit, vlogers Jenna Marbles and Tyler Oakley and a dozen screaming fans. This is YouTube come to life.

The song-and-dance number is the opening to The Late Late Show’s all-YouTube episode set to air Friday, Aug. 21, the first episode of late night television to feature only online talent, including Marbles and Oakley, singing group Boyce Avenue and visual effects kings the Slow Mo Guys.

“The guests on the show are incredibly talented people and performers,” says Corden. “The truth is, if this was 10 or 15 years ago they would probably be the hosts of Total Request Live on MTV. They are stars in their world.”

Corden may understand the value of online stardom better than just about any other host in late night. In the five months since he took over for Craig Ferguson on March 23, the Late Late Show YouTube channel has found an audience of nearly 900,000 subscribers and turned 27 video clips into viral hits with more than 1 million views each. Meanwhile, the show is averaging 1.37 million viewers and a .33 rating, below NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers but besting Ferguson's audience. Corden’s natural instinct for sharable content as been key to his early success on CBS, prompting network chief Nina Tassler to praise the show for exceeding expectations during a period where his lead in was a series of CSI: Cyber and The Mentalist reruns.

That will change Sept. 8 when Stephen Colbert makes his debut behind the Late Show desk. Corden says he shot a few videos with the former The Colbert Report host that will run on Late Late Show next month and teases that he will be a guest on the Late Show in October. “I’m a huge fan of him both professionally and personally,” Corden adds. “It’s a real privilege to follow David Letterman’s last ever show and then follow Stephen Colbert’s first ever show. It’s not lost on us how lucky we are do to such a thing.”

In many ways, this YouTube-centric show — which is being billed as a 10th anniversary celebration for the Google-owned streamer — is an homage to the platform that helped give the show, which averages 1.37 million viewers and a .33 rating, a pre-Colbert social boost. “We could never count on ratings to start because James is an unknown quantity,” says Late Late Show executive producer Rob Crabbe. “But what we could go for is relevance — by being part of the conversation and getting videos put up and having people, hopefully favorably, mentioning things said on the show on a blog post and linking to the YouTube video. That’s been incredible helpful in getting James out there.”

The episode, shot entirely on location at YouTube Space LA, blends the casual atmosphere that Corden has established for the Late Late Show with the youthful energy of YouTube. (This is the second time Corden has left his set at CBS Television City for a full episode. The first was when he shot at a stranger’s home in April.) Late Late Show took over the entire lobby of YouTube’s 41,000-square-foot production facility complete with Corden’s desk, guest couch, bar and stage for the house band led by Reggie Watts

Guests were selected to provide a broad look at the types of talent found on YouTube. Make-up artist Kandee Johnson, for example, is featured in a segment where she turns Corden into Barbie. Meanwhile, Peter Shukoff and Lloyd Ahlquist perform one of their most popular Epic Rap Battles of History, which pits Skrillex against Mozart in a battle of words, and Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy of the Slow Mo Guys (a personal favorite of Corden’s) blow up a watermelon. Marbles and Oakley are featured for the majority of the episode, playing several games including a YouTube-themed take on "Nuzzle Whaaa???" in which they must guess the object that they are nuzzling while blindfolded.

Watts, himself an experienced YouTuber through his stake in online comedy collective Jash, says the goal is to shine a light on fresh new talent. “They’re massive on YouTube but in a way, they’re still kind of underground,” he says. “It’s cool to give them a platform like broadcast television.”

The episode features several winks at the online culture that has been established over the course of YouTube’s 10-year history. The opening number features countless references to popular viral videos over the years, from Charlie Bit my Finger to Double Rainbow Guy (who even makes a special cameo), and a YouTube episode wouldn’t be complete without a twerking girl or ice bucket.

The show’s producers acknowledge that the YouTube episode might surprise viewers not familiar with the YouTube subculture. “We’re going to be introducing these stars to an audience that doesn’t necessarily know who they are,” says Crabbe with executive producer Ben Winston adding, “at it’s heart, it’s a really entertaining show. I think our audience will come with us and enjoy the show, even if they don’t know who these people are.”

Of course, the all YouTube show could also expose Corden to a new generation of young viewers whose curfews are long before Late Late Show airs each night. It was evident during last week’s taping that the the audience —mostly teens and young adults — was there for their favorite YouTube stars, not Corden. In fact, Winston says more than 2,000 people applied for tickets to the show, which only seated 100, and many fans lined up early in the day to reserve their spot. He adds: “We’d be lying if we said we weren’t reaching out to a certain extend to that new crowd to say, ‘this show is for you, and late night is for you.’”