James Corden admits he’s terrified of taking over CBS’ The Late Late Show from Craig Ferguson on March 23, but the 36-year-old Brit is ready to leave his mark on late-night TV. “I have no idea if it’s going to work,” says Corden, who unlike many of his hosting peers is more known for acting than stand-up (the Tony-winner recently starred in Into the Woods.) “You can’t make a show that feels fresh and exciting without leaving elements of it to chance.”
TIME caught up with Corden to talk about his vision for late-night, courting the Internet and the invaluable advice of Jimmy Kimmel.
TIME: Your big debut is in just a few days. What can viewers expect?
James Corden: Well, I hope that people won’t know what they can expect from the show because the greatest thing I can hope people say is they don’t know what it will be tonight. I hope we can create something that’s fresh and new and in many ways organic. I really hope we can make a show that is worthy of people’s time.
How do you strike a balance between respecting the history of the show and the format with wanting to put your own spin on it?
Those things all happen over time. These shows are only good if they’re given time to grow. It’s kind of odd that they would be reviewed or scrutinized that early in their run. We could try and prep this show for a year, but we would learn more doing it for two weeks. It’s only in the doing of it that you learn what it is. We have some ideas for the show, but whether they’re any good or not? We just have to wait and see.
I can’t wait for Stephen Colbert to start, because I feel like that’s when our show can be judged — when it’s been on after that, then you can see it as a whole. Because for the summer, we just follow nothing. When Letterman finishes, we have the whole summer of, I think, following NCIS repeats. So it’s going to be a bleak summer for us!
After you got the job, how did you come up with your vision for the show?
We tended to talk more in terms of an atmosphere we wanted to create, both in the studio and at home. We decided fairly early on in the process that we would be a show that would bring all of our guests out together at the same time. We just thought, “Well, we’re on after a talk show, we have to do something that make it try and look and feel a little bit different.” It’s going to feel a bit more intimate. We’ve brought the audience closer. They’re sort of cinema seats with lamps. [Bandleader] Reggie [Watts] has got a really cool performance area with his band. In many ways it will just look and feel like another talk show. It’s up to us to try in content to give it a reason to exist.
Do you have a firm sense of the show’s identity at this point, or are you still experimenting in the final days?
It is going to be on the fly. You can’t make a show that feels fresh and exciting without leaving elements of it to chance. Like, I have no idea if it’s going to work. But if it doesn’t work, it’s not going to be because we didn’t work really really hard at it.
What’s your favorite idea that’s been rejected so far?
We had a sketch that we wanted to do with two big stars, but they said no. It would be childish and wrong to tell you who they are and what it was, but I was quite disappointed by that. I hope that in time we’ll be able to navigate them and that people would see what our show is. So much of it is about [publicists] and time and all those things. We just have to hope that guests will respond to the show and want to have some fun.
Diversity in the world of late-night TV has been a hot topic with the turnover in hosts. Is that something you pay attention to as you put together your show and your staff?
Yeah, very much so. You never want to hire someone just because they’re a woman or just because of what their ethnicity is, but at the same time, you want to feel like everybody is represented, and I feel very confident [in that]. We have a very small writing team — I feel like we have the smallest staff in late-night — but I feel like there is a great representation in terms of class and culture and background and everything.
The Internet has become a big part of the late-night landscape: Jimmy Fallon is great at going viral, Chelsea Handler is headed to Netflix, YouTube star Grace Helbig is getting a show on E!. Many viewers experience late-night only through morning-after clips. How do you take the Internet into account as you conceive a new show?
There is a very definite correlation between the things that are shared virally the next day and the things that work on the show. What you have to do is try and make a great show on TV and hope that there are bits that people would choose to share with their friends. All we can do is try and make a great show. Of course we hope there are things people would want to consume the next day that could be fragmented into segments that you would be able watch easily. But those things, if we have stuff that works virally, it’s going to be because it worked on the show. It’s very, very rare that someone would go, “Oh, it didn’t work on the show, but my God it was brilliant the next day online.”
Who gave you the most helpful advice who wasn’t Craig Ferguson?
Seth [Meyers] has been very forthcoming. He’s lovely. Jimmy Fallon was great. Jimmy Kimmel particularly has sent me some lovely emails: “Don’t fret, it won’t be ready straight away.” He sent me an email saying, “My first two years were awful, so don’t fret when your first two months aren’t received well.” He gave me his email straightaway and said, “Get in touch if you need anything.” And the same with Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert — everyone’s been great.
A version of this story appears in the March 30 issue of TIME.
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