James Corden on Making ‘The Late Late Show’ Casual for COVID Times — Including His On-Air Cold Call to Oprah

·6-min read

A few weeks ago, James Corden, his band and his writers were having a laugh about a new hotel chain that superstar music producer Pharrell Williams was opening. That led them down the rabbit hole of discussing what celebrity they’d actually like to see open a hotel. Drummer Guillermo Brown suggested Oprah Winfrey, and even had a name for it: the O-Tel. Suddenly, they were egging Corden on to pitch it to Winfrey. On a whim, the host found her number on his phone — and he called it.

By the way, this all happened on camera. “Everything you saw is completely real,” Corden tells Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast. “There was not one second of it that was planned in any way. God bless her for answering. And then she sent me a text that ‘I never answere the phone to numbers I don’t know, I have no idea what I was thinking. I just felt I should answer it.’ It’s crazy. Like that freedom to feel like we’re all protected when we’re in our studio.”

More from Variety

If you haven’t watched “The Late Late Show with James Corden” lately, especially as the show returned to the studio (with staffers and writers as the audience), then you’ve missed what has become a signature part of the show: A loose opening that allows Corden, his band and his producers to all interact and riff about whatever is going on in their lives. It has allowed for plenty of spotaneous moments, like when Corden dialed up Oprah.

Corden says the idea came from being a bit of a virtual spot for people at home to hang out with friends, albeit on their TV screen. “What can’t people do right now, you can’t meet up in a bar in a pub, or wherever you would see your friends,” he says. “We’ve always wanted to be just a little bit of levity at the end of the day. And so really, we thought, if we can be a group of people that [viewers] check in with every night, and I’ve never wanted the show to be me. Our show has always been about collaboration, and sharing the whole show with people.”

On this edition of the Variety Awards Circuit podcast, we talk to Corden on the unusual year that was hosting his show from his garage, and then in a studio with no audience. Later on, we chat with “The Kominsky Method’s” Kathleen Turner about joining the show and reuniting with co-star Michael Douglas. But first, on the Variety Awards Circuit roundtable, we wrap up the traditional TV season with a big question mark. Listen below!

A year since the COVID-19 pandemic forced talk shows to pivot, they’ve managed to shake up the form in new ways, including a lack of a studio audience and a looser, casual feel among some hosts. Others have tweaked their formats while still leaning into the reality of the situation. Corden and his team have embraced their freeform opening, and it’s become his favorite part of the show.

“I’ve really loved doing it in a way because I really never know what’s going to happen,” he says. “For everybody to just be themselves on camera has been a thrill. We want the show to feel like it is an incredibly relaxed environment. And that’s goes back to when we had an audience of bringing all our guests out at the same time, and it feeling like a cocktail party. That’s all we’ve ever wanted. And while we can’t do the sort of big, ambitious things that we normally do, it doesn’t mean we have to lose the spirit of what we want the show to be.”

That’s also led to silly stunts like bringing out CBS late night senior VP Nick Bernstein, who has let his hair grow out to ridiculous lengths during the pandemic, and placing him on a high chair that got even higher as the week went on.

“I said to [exec producer] Ben [Winston] on Sunday, we should try and put him on a really high chair,” Corden says. “It just sounds awkward. And then we just decided, well, why don’t we just raise him up throughout the week. Nick is absolutely a member of our team. He is a joy to work with. He hadn’t been allowed back in the building. The fact that it was his first day back, we thought, it felt so fun. It felt so mischievious.”

Corden, who can also be seen this week hosting HBO Max’s “Friends” reunion, has still managed to do some fun things on his show, including taking Prince Harry on a bus tour of Los Angeles and interacting with the Weeknd on the eve of the Super Bowl.

“I felt like you saw him the truest version of him that that certainly the person that I have known all this time,” Corden said of Prince Harry. “And mostly, it was a very uplifting piece of television. We’re very proud of that. We’re very proud that the first time either of either him or the Duchess spoke on television was with us our show.”

As for when things may return to normal, Corden says he’s not in a rush to bring back a studio audience — and even then, he hopes to preserve what the show’s opening moment has become. “I would really like to try to protect the sort of first 10 or 15 minutes of the show that we found in this past 12 months,” he says. :I think that’s really important that we find a way to do that. And, you know, hopefully, by the end of the year, we would be able to be, you know, singing in cars and doing those big sort of sketches and things that we traditionally normally do. But I don’t feel in a huge rush. I just think the most important thing is that it’s just really safe.”

Also on this episode: On the third and final season of “The Kominsky Method, life only becomes more complicated for Sandy, played by Michael Douglas, with the arrival of his ex-wife Roz (played by Academy Award nominee Kathleen Turner). The pair’s famously volatile relationship is further inflamed when she comes to LA to spend time with their daughter Mindy (Sarah Baker) and her boyfriend Martin (Paul Reiser).

Variety’s Jazz Tangcay caught up with Turner to discuss her reunion with Douglas, her co-star on “Romancing the Stone,” “Jewel of the Nile” and “The War of the Roses,” and what to expect this final season. They began by discussing how much Turner and Douglas have kept in touch over their 40-year friendship.

Variety’s Emmy edition of the “Awards Circuit” podcast is hosted by Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Danielle Turchiano and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in television. Each week during Emmy season, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting