James Corden, along with two executive producers, arrived at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Wednesday ready to share what sets their CBS late-night show apart from the rest. The answer: Embrace being the underdog.
"It never crossed my mind in any way to do it. We just sort of came at it, expecting it to fail," said Corden of the show's early days.
Corden's PaleyFest panel marked two years since The Late Late Show joined the ranks of the U.S. late-night lineup. While his show has become a phenomenon, drawing more than 2.5 billion hits on YouTube and 10 million subscribers to its digital channel and is broadcast in more than 150 countries, the trek was not easy for what is essentially a variety show.
"When I got the call, I did what anyone does, I Googled 'Who's James Corden?' " said EP Rob Crabbe of when Corden and showrunner Ben Winston contacted him to join the series.
Despite already being successful in England, Corden was virtually unknown stateside. Three weeks before the show's premiere, Corden and his team drove to various publicists' offices to introduce the host to the town in a bid to help draw top talent to the couch. Ultimately, what the town - and viewers - quickly learned was that Corden's background as a performer would make him a natural host on television's most-watched network.
"He hadn't stood on a mark and told a joke or interviewed anyone, two hallmarks of a talk show host. He picked it up quickly," said Crabbe.
The pressure to make a successful show did not stop Corden, who felt like his status as an outsider gave him an advantage to offer a different perspective for audiences.
"It all made me nervous, but I'm a fan of nerves," said Corden. "I think you're only ever nervous because you want to do your best. I thrive on being nervous. We were below zero … trying to get people to come on the show, but they didn't."
While the struggle to gain attention from Hollywood stars and viewers was one thing, Corden noted that it was discovering their niche that would truly make the show morph into something successful.
"You don't have a successful late-night show unless you have something that you can hang it on. You need continuity, otherwise you're only relying on news. You need something that people come back to," said Corden of his creative process.
One thing that was commonly mentioned throughout the panel was the show's willingness to take risks.
"As much as not growing up here [in L.A.] has its negatives, I realize quickly that it has so many more pluses. You're never looking at a landscape. You're going, 'Well what could we do?'" said Corden.
Ultimately, Corden strayed from abiding by the rules of what makes a traditional late-night show, including placing the couch on the opposite side of the desk and interviewing all of the show's guests at once rather than individually.
Rather than focus on ratings, the show's success has been helped by its strong online presence. Corden emphasized how popular segments from the show were and singled out bits including Roll Call, Drop the Mic and, his pride and joy, Carpool Karaoke. The latter two are now in production as spinoff series set to premiere on Apple Music and TBS, respectively.
Here are some other highlights from the PaleyFest panel:
· After showing a clip, Corden and his producers reflected on filming Roll Call with Tom Cruise. While Cruise and Corden were re-enacting the actor's iconic Jerry Maguire scene, Cuba Gooding Jr. makes a surprise appearance to deliver his famous "Show me the money!" line with Cruise. Despite many believing Gooding and Cruise were there together, Gooding's appearance was filmed nine months prior. Corden and his team were not able to book Cruise for the segment until months later, after telling Cuba it would only be a few weeks.
· After being asked if he'd ever have President Donald Trump as a guest on the show, Corden said he already had the concept for a segment called Stand By or Take It Back. The bit would include Corden reading things that Trump has said during the campaign while the president would hold a paddle and that would let him either say "stand by" or "take it back." "If you take it back, you take it back forever, but if you stand by it, you gotta tell me why," said Corden of the idea.
· When asked about The Late Late Show's political approach, Corden believes they don't mind talking politics but not enough to stray from what their late-night show is about. "We try to always talk about it, but then we don't want to be obsessed with it. I'm very proud of the line that we tread. I certainly don't think we're not a political show," he said.
· While filming the Beauty and the Beast-inspired Crosswalk Musical segment, Corden recalled the shock from star Josh Gad, who believed that the segment was not truly done in the middle of a street.
· After watching Anne Hathaway's Drop the Mic segment, Friends grad David Schwimmer contacted the show's office and requested to participate in his own rap battle. Corden originally refused to air two Drop the Mic segments in the same week, but Schwimmer already sent over lyrics he had written in preparation for it. Corden couldn't refuse.
• Winston couldn't help but laugh as he recalled the time he was driving in front of Corden in traffic and could see him belting and dancing to songs in order to prep for his next Carpool Karaoke.
· When Corden filmed the Carpool Karaoke with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, they responded to a medical emergency across the street. A grandmother was screaming for help over her baby grandchild being unresponsive. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis jumped in to help. The baby ultimately let out what Corden says was the "biggest burp."
· The panel wrapped with Corden inviting select audience members on stage to join him in a faux Carpool Karaoke. Before singing "Uptown Funk" with volunteers, Corden lectured them saying, "Remember if you're doing it, then f - ing do it!"
The Late Late Show With James Corden airs weeknights on CBS at 12:37 a.m.