CBS has added the final piece to its late-night makeover, replacing Scottish host Craig Ferguson with British actor James Corden at the Late Late Show, which airs weeknights at 12:37 a.m. ET/PT.
Corden, 36, is unknown to many American viewers, but has appeared in films (Begin Again, the upcoming Into the Woods), won a Tony in 2012 as lead actor in Broadway's One Man, Two Guvnors, co-created British TV comedy Gavin and Staceyand wrote and stars in BBC's The Wrong Mans, available on Hulu. He also has a large social media presence.
CBS Entertainment chairman (and Broadway fan) Nina Tassler was his enthusiastic champion, and says they met a year ago when Corden pitched a sitcom to the network. "He sings, he dances, he's done years of sketch comedy," she says. "You just can't take your eyes off him." He's also, she says, "comedically fearless, and in this climate you need someone who's willing to take risks."
CBS has not yet named a producer or any details of Corden's Late Late Show, which is expected to debut early next year, but Tassler says Corden wants a more "intimate" show than is typical in late night. "He wants the audience to perhaps be a little more involved."
Corden, who signed a contract for more than two years, says in a statement: "I can't describe how thrilled and honored I am to be taking over from the brilliant Craig Ferguson. To be asked to host such a prestigious show on America's No. 1 network is hugely exciting. I can't wait to get started, and will do my very best to make a show America will enjoy."
Tassler says CBS met with "a number of diverse candidates," including female comedians, but chose Corden because "ultimately, he just blew us away." And she says she's not concerned with his obscurity to American viewers: "Audiences like to be part of the discovery process" for new talent.
Ferguson, 52, is stepping down in mid-December after 10 years, as his contract ends and CBS chose Stephen Colbert to succeed David Letterman as host of its Late Show. Ferguson is averaging 1.3 million viewers this season (compared to 1.6 million for NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers), and trails significantly among young-adult viewers, a category in which Ferguson merely matches NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly, which airs an hour later. The eventual Colbert-Corden team is aimed at reaching a younger and larger audience than the current lineup. Since taking over for Jay Leno last February, Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show has increased NBC's late-night dominance.
Letterman, the reigning late-night legend, has not revealed the timing of his departure from the network, which he joined in 1993, but is expected to step down next spring. Colbert, who wraps up Comedy Central's Colbert Report in December, will likely join CBS' lineup next fall.
Ferguson is keeping busy, hosting Celebrity Name Game, a syndicated game show due Sept. 22. He's also in talks to host an early-evening half-hour talk show in 2016, also to be syndicated to local stations.