Kim Kardashian owes Ben Winston a massage.
In 2021, Winston was ready to take a vacation. His company, Fulwell 73, had just wrapped production on HBO Max’s highly anticipated “Friends” reunion and the Grammy Awards, not to mention James Corden’s “Late Late Show,” which has been airing on CBS since 2015 with five episodes per week.
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Earlier last year, Corden, one of Winston’s producing partners, had bumped into Kris Jenner in Palm Springs, where they both own second homes. Corden, already friendly with Jenner, who had been a guest on his show, spoke to the momager about her family’s new Hulu reality show, which would follow 20 ground-breaking seasons of E!’s “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”
Jenner told Corden she was just starting to take meetings with production companies. They set up a Zoom and he bought her a pair of Gucci pajamas as a thank you gift. “I said, ‘I can’t tell you how much Ben and I appreciate the opportunity to even be in your orbit, and if nothing ever happens, it was a joy just to talk to you all,’” Corden shares.
“I thought, ‘Well, nothing will come of this, but it was fun to meet all the Kardashians on a Zoom,’ ” Winston recalls. “That was more fun than my next meeting.”
For months, Winston, Corden and their fellow partners at Fulwell 73, Leo Pearlman, Ben Turner and Gabe Turner, never heard a thing. With that, Winston decided to take some time off and head to Cabo.
“I promised my wife that I was going to put my phone in the safe for the entire time so that nobody could disturb me,” Winston says. “It was the first time I’d ever done that. On the last day, my wife kept getting missed calls from James. I thought there was a disaster because he knew after the Grammys, followed by the ‘Friends’ reunion, I was out of action, and no one could contact me, unless they knew my wife’s number.
“He went, ‘Are you sitting?’” Winston continues of his conversation with Corden. “And I said, ‘Oh no. What’s happened?’”
That’s when Corden informed Winston he had spoken to Kim Kardashian, who told him her family wanted to produce their show with Fulwell 73. Winston recalls, “I had booked this unbelievable massage, and I was on my way, but I was so excited that all I could think about was, ‘Oh, my God. We’re about to take over the Kardashian show.’”
Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for Hulu
Winston believes that the Kardashians might have gone with them because they enjoyed watching the “Friends” reunion. But according to the billionaire, her family wanted to partner with Fulwell 73 because they are “amazing at what they do.”
“We knew they would bring an elevated production level to the new series, both with their storytelling and visually,” Kim Kardashian tells Variety. “We’ve had an incredible working relationship so far and we’re excited to continue this new journey together.”
When Hulu inked a deal with the Kardashians, they were prepared to launch the family’s show on their terms — and that meant letting them choose who they wanted to get into business with.
“Ben Winston and the team at Fulwell 73 have taken a beloved show, recrafted it and elevated it in every way,” says Dana Walden, chairman of entertainment at Walt Disney Television, speaking of “The Kardashians,” which launched April 14 on Hulu. “In picking Ben and Fulwell, the family chose creative partners who were very much in sync with what the family wanted to be different about the show, both in how it looks and which storylines we follow.”
In nearly record time, it feels as if Fulwell 73 has become the go-to production house for A-list talent in unscripted event programming. It’s not just the Kardashians, the Grammys and the cast of “Friends.” The company was also behind Adele’s “One Night Only” special on CBS, Universal’s Usain Bolt documentary, “I Am Bolt,” and the four-time Emmy-winning “Carpool Karaoke” streaming series, which is based on Corden’s popular late-night segment and led to Apple’s first Primetime Emmy Award, even beating out Beyoncé in 2019 when she was nominated for her Netflix documentary.
Set up in 2005 across the pond by childhood friends Winston, Pearlman and the Turner brothers, Corden officially joined the company as its fifth partner in 2017. He knew Winston from back in the U.K. where they met on the set of the British TV show “Teachers” in the early 2000s, in which Corden had a small role and Winston was a production assistant. They kept in touch over the years. Fast-forward to the future, and it was Corden who introduced Winston to the talent with whom he is most often associated: One Direction.
Chance would have it that in his early days as a young actor, Corden met future pop sensation Louis Tomlinson’s mother, who was an on-set chaperone that looked after kids on a show he was on. Years later, when Tomlinson competed on “The X-Factor,” the show that formed the boyband and catapulted the group to international fame, she reached out to Corden to ask him to look after her then-teenage son.
She said, ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but my son Louis, who would hang out on the set, is in London,’” Corden shares. “I can still remember picking him up from Baker Street Tube Station and taking him to my house to play FIFA.”
After the young boyband made their first music video, Corden suggested that Tomlinson meet his friend, Winston. Winston produced the 2013 concert film “One Direction: This Is Us,” which became a box office hit, and Fulwell produced and directed 10 music videos for the group and two videos for Harry Styles, now a hit solo artist. (In fact, when Corden was on the phone with Variety for this interview, he had just gotten off a plane from London where he was shooting pickups for Fulwell’s upcoming Amazon series, “Mammals,” in which he’ll also star, and was en route to watch Styles headline Coachella.)
Courtesy of Terence Patrick/CBS
When asked if their close relationship to talent is the secret to the company’s success, Corden says, “I would hope so. We are fundamentally creative people. We just want to make stuff with people that we really love.”
Being a staple at CBS, Corden was selected by the network to host the Grammys in 2017 and 2018 and Winston served as a producer on those telecasts, essentially setting himself up to take over in the future. Fulwell 73 took the reins of the Grammys in 2021 and has put on the show for the past two years. Then, when Adele, a longtime friend of Corden’s wife, wanted to do a TV special, the obvious home was at CBS with Fulwell 73. Corden says much of the company’s work has come organically from previous projects that link them to new people, creating even more new relationships.
“The purest example is me knowing the boys in One Direction, telling them they should meet my friend Ben, then Ben making their documentary, then Harry needing a place to stay and moving in with Ben, then Ben shooting lots of their music videos,” Corden says. “There is a real shorthand with people when I think they feel like we absolutely care about them more than the TV show. That’s the truth of it. We care more about the people than we do the show.”
Another example? “Friends: The Reunion” came to Fulwell through a previous relationship, even though it was a short-lived show.
In early 2019, Corden hosted and produced the CBS reality competition series, “The World’s Best,” which lasted just one season, despite an all-star lineup of celebrity judges, Drew Barrymore, RuPaul and Faith Hill. The series was produced by Warner Bros. executives Mike Darnell and Brooke Karzen, who later down the road, suggested Winston take a meeting when the studio was working on a top-secret reunion with the original cast of “Friends.”
“That was all Ben,” Corden raves of his producing partner, who directed the HBO Max reunion special that was re-scheduled multiple times, due to pandemic-related delays. “That was the most laser-focused I’ve ever seen him trying to get something made and get it on the air — getting the whole cast on board to do it, getting it done on budget and during a COVID lockdown. He was really quite adamant that the show would get made, and he really pushed it through.”
Corden shares that he wasn’t always planning to the host the reunion, which he originally was only attached to through Fulwell 73, which produced the streaming special.
“I wasn’t completely sure whether I should host it,” Corden says, revealing that one of the cast members convinced him. “It was only when I got a call from David Schwimmer, and then I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ I get a bit scared about things that are overly pressured, but I’m so pleased I did it because just sitting with that cast is a night that I’ll never ever forget.”
Fulwell 73 is based both in L.A., where Winston and Corden reside and shoot his nightly CBS show, and in the U.K., where the other three partners are based. “The talent is in the people that you can put around you,” Corden beams. “Our greatest skill is perhaps the people that work for the company. We’re incredibly proud that in the office in London, nobody has ever left the firm. People just stay.”
When CBS offered Corden “The Late Late Show” spot in 2015, taking over from Craig Ferguson, Winston told him the gig would be a huge mistake because he’d get bored doing the same thing every day. Corden told Winston, “I’ll only go if you come with me,” and then told CBS he’d only accept the job if his friend could produce the show. Winston eventually decided to temporarily move to the states to help his friend launch his show. Winston never went back home to London. “It’s a bit crazy, seven years and a thousand late night shows later,” he says. (The day after this piece was published, Corden announced he renewed his late-night deal for one final season, and then will end his show.)
Looking ahead, the shingle might delve more into scripted fare. After their success with Amazon’s “Cinderella” movie, starring Camila Cabello and Billy Porter, Fulwell will next launch Amazon’s “Mammals.”
“We really would like to build every facet and corner of the business,” Corden says. “But the most important thing you can do is just have a really good day at work.”
Winston echoes that sentiment. Beyond running their company, the biggest priority is the viewer experience.
“My feeling is our company should be making shows that people really want to watch,” Winston says. “I’m not snobby about what that is – I love mainstream shows that people want to talk about and share and can’t miss. The best type of television that you can make is something that people are excited to watch, and that’s a big part of the work that we do. We never take it too seriously and we always want it to be joyful.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect James Corden’s announcement regarding him leaving “The Late Late Show” at CBS.
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