If the rumor mill is right, then CBS has made a bold hire, handing a relative unknown one of late night's juiciest gigs. Back in April, current host Craig Ferguson announced his plans to leave The Late Late Show when his contract expired at the end of the year. In an early spring statement, Ferguson explained, “CBS and I are not getting divorced, we are ‘consciously uncoupling,’ but we will still spend holidays together and share custody of the fake horse and robot skeleton, both of whom we love very much,” a reference to two of the props he made famous on his absurdist, niche late-night show.
Of course, much like in the Gwyneth and Chris non-divorce, we imagine that some private goop hit the fan behind the scenes. While Ferguson’s exit appears civil, the timing came right after David Letterman’s own announcement that he was leaving the lucrative Late Show, a gig that many assumed Ferguson was being groomed for, but which was ultimately offered to Stephen Colbert. The general consensus appears to be that while Ferguson was revered for his quirky style and in-depth interviews, he couldn’t build the sort of mainstream, viral appeal that has become so integral to the Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel, respectively) late-night success. Ferguson was a pro, but he never would have thought to film parents taking away candy from their children and that, dear linkbait lovers, made all the difference. Ferguson, doubtlessly a little disillusioned by this lack of a promotion, has naturally decided to “do something else…Probably, I’m thinking, carpentry.”
With Colbert set to helm CBS’s late-night programming, the network went looking for another host to fill out the roster. According to multiple reports, this scheduling shakeup had been a long time in the making. The Hollywood Reporter reported that CBS approached John Oliver last year, trying to nab the former Daily Show correspondent in the event that Ferguson didn’t renew his contract. In addition to the 12:30 Late Late Show spot, execs also offered Oliver the option of some sort of different, syndicated show. The talks were aborted back in November when Oliver instead chose to host his own weekly show on HBO, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
While the Late Late Show spot was widely known to be up for grabs, Tuesday’s reveal that 35-year-old British comedian James Corden was the new heir apparent came as quite a surprise. Corden’s proven his comedic chops overseas in the BBC’s Gavin and Stacey; he’s also a Tony Award-winning actor who recently turned in a scene-stealing performance as Keira Knightley’s portly pal in the musical film Begin Again, and is set to star as the Baker in Disney's upcoming film adaptation of Sondheim’s Into the Woods. And his stints as a guest on BBC One’s The Graham Norton Show have been good, cheeky fun. Still, aside from his acclaimed Broadway turn in One Man, Two Guvnors, Corden’s yet to make a splash stateside.
Of course, CBS loyalists and assorted optimists will be quick to point out that Ferguson was also an unknown UK transport before he landed the late- (late!) night gig. While Ferguson became an American citizen in 2008, before CBS came calling he was just a Scottish comedian, well known in the UK for his über-patriotic character, Bing Hitler, and here for his stint as saucy boss Nigel Wick on The Drew Carey Show.
While CBS is taking a gamble on a relatively unknown (and unproven) talent, to many critics this decision was all too predictable. A veritable army of think pieces has been dedicated to the homogeny of the late-night schedule, a time slot that’s direly in need of young viewers, but is still dominated by older white men. Despite a wealth of fresh, available talent in the comedy world (Chelsea Handler, Neil Patrick Harris, and Chris Rock, to list a few of the names that surfaced as potential Letterman replacements before Colbert swooped in), network gatekeepers don’t seem interested in diversifying the late-night roster anytime soon. While Corden, who is an accomplished actor, a husband, and a father, seems like a perfectly nice guy and a relatively fresh face, his presence on CBS is unfortunately a perpetuation of the status quo.