james Corden on his late night tv series
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James Corden Exits, Giving Late-Night TV a Chance To Change

The popular television star parts ways with his career on CBC, leaving fans shocked — however, his departure may offer some new opportunities for the format.

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james Corden on his late night tv series
Image via Google Images

The popular television star parts ways with his career on CBC, leaving fans shocked — however, his departure may offer some new opportunities for the format.

After hosting “The Late Late Show with James Corden” on CBS for over eight years, James Corden announced that he will be leaving the television program in 2023. Even with how divisive of a figure Corden is, the actor’s exit from the show came as a surprise. Many expected him to continue being the face of the program due to the stability of the position and the show’s popularity, which stem in part from produced segments such as “Carpool Karaoke,” and “Crosswalk Concert.” Corden’s decision to move on to other projects gives the world of late-night television the chance to modernize and try something more creative with its format, interview setup and choice of who works both in front of and behind the camera.

An Outdated Format

The beginning of the late-night television genre dates back to the 1940s with “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Hosted by Ed Sullivan, the iconic weekly variety program comprised musical and live performances, celebrity interviews and recurring characters. From there, more and more late-night programs in the same vein as “The Ed Sullivan Show” started to pop up on television. The first version of NBC’sThe Tonight Show” with comedian Steve Allen premiered in 1954 and ran until 1957. The show was handed over to other hosts, and in 1962, it was given to Johnny Carson, the man who popularized the genre along with now-staples of late-night television, such as seating the host behind a desk while a guest sits on a couch. Since Carson’s reign, late-night television has continued to expand past traditional commercial broadcast television networks.

While late-night television of this nature has certainly made an impact on global media, the entertainment industry has not made any major effort to update the format since Carson’s debut over 60 years ago — or 74 years with Sullivan — to accommodate today’s audience. Corden, like most presenters on late-night talk shows, subscribes to the same overused format: host monologue with topical jokes from a small pool of topics, video from earlier that week of normal people and/or guests doing a multitude of different tasks, guest interview(s) following a rehearsed set of questions, and at least one musical performance. Late-night television’s use of the same elements over and over across networks has become boring, and the result is entertainment that feels unoriginal and corny. Executives and hosts should try and shuffle around the segments on these programs as well as revamp the subject matters discussed.

Awkward Interviews

On each episode of any late-night television talk show, at least one person is interviewed by the host. Usually, when the program runs through a rehearsal the night or week before, the guests are prepped on the questions and topics discussed beforehand. Genuine conversation does occur between the interviewer and the interviewee, but there is a general playful tone and style that both of them must uphold throughout the process. Because of how similar all of these interviews are, a majority of them come off as extremely rehearsed and awkward. The stilted conversations seem more like polite banter between two people who barely know each other at a dinner party. Recordings of these interactions end up on YouTube after the initial broadcast with cringe-inducing titles that try to catch the attention of young kids or older generations spending their day mindlessly watching videos.

Another issue present within these manufactured chats is that the focus often shifts from the guest to the host. There have been so many instances where a celebrity starts to talk about a topic that they are interested in or are telling a story before the presenter interrupts them. This is partly due to the set time limit of each conversation. However, a large portion of late-night hosts cut off those speaking in order to make their own irrelevant commentary. Once the 10 to 20 minutes of the interview is up, the audience is expected to move on and be satisfied with the lack of interesting discussion.

A great example of a show that prioritizes its celebrity guests over the host is the YouTube series “Hot Ones” from the channel First We Feast. The face of the program, Sean Evans, and his team work endlessly to find unique and lesser-known information on each interviewee. They also ask questions that require the subject to think deeply about their answers as they eat hot wings that get spicier with each question. The interviews feel much more fluid than the ones on late-night television as the guests are able to talk about themselves and their interests without needing to stay in a box. Evans listens closely to their responses and asks questions that allow the conversations to feel meaningful, and these inquiries give fans new insight into the stars. Evans treats the celebrities like people with interesting stories to tell rather than set decoration. There are even compilations made of the compliments his interviewees have given him across all 17 seasons.

Late-night TV interviews are supposed to be light, but just because a piece of media is on the fluffier side does not mean that it should be excused for having no substance.

Diversity in Hosts and Content

A major complaint about late-night television on traditional broadcast networks is that the hosts all fit into the same demographic: white, straight, cisgender male in their 40s. The presenters, their sidekicks — excluding Jimmy Kimmel’s right-hand man Guillermo Rodriguez, who is Mexican American — and their writers’ rooms are overwhelmingly white and offer the same perspective on comedy and American society. This type of programming does not need another person like Corden onscreen.

NBC did have a talk show headed by YouTuber Lilly Singh called “A Little Late with Lilly Singh,” which ran from September 2019, through June 2021. This program made Singh the first person of Indian and South Asian descent as well as the first person from the LGBTQ+ community to host a major broadcast network late-night talk show in the United States. This show was met with mixed reviews from critics and negative responses from viewers who found her jokes unfunny and her consistent emphasis on the show’s diversity performative. After two seasons with low viewership numbers, NBC canceled the show.

“A Little Late with Lilly Singh” was certainly a swing and a miss, but traditional broadcast networks should not disregard creating late-night talk shows or having people from underrepresented backgrounds take over hosting duties. “The Amber Ruffin Show” hosted by Amber Ruffin, a Black comedian who originally started as a writer for “Late Night with Seth Myers,” garnered critical acclaim when her show premiered on the streaming service Peacock in 2020. Ruffin offers a much-needed different point of view as a Black American woman in the entertainment industry. She is able to keep her show funny while addressing serious topics impacting people, more specifically Black people, in the U.S. Ruffin and her work are signs that late-night television can become more inclusive with positive results.

The Future of Late-Night Television

The call for the genre to evolve out of its rut has been ongoing for years now. Some have even called late-night television, especially on traditional broadcast networks, a “dying industry.” This problem is made worse by the rise of well-crafted internet talk shows that adapt and improve upon the type of programming. Late-night is struggling even if viewership numbers are fairly high. Corden’s departure from “The Late Late Show” gives the television industry and a major network the option to update the format, content and host. Hollywood, please do not let this opportunity for change go to waste. You’ll regret it if you do.

Writer Profile

Meredith Granmayeh

Chapman University
Creative Writing, Communication Studies

Meredith Granmayeh is a junior creative writing and communication studies double major at Chapman University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing and journaling, traveling, and spending with her cat, Inky.

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