James Corden’s ‘Late Late Show’ was fun, until it wasn’t

When the last episode of “The Late Late Show With James Corden” airs Thursday on CBS, the show’s host will be sent off in style by some of the biggest names in entertainment. Harry Styles and Will Ferrellare slated to appear. Tom Cruise will deliver a performance from “The Lion King” for a pre-show finale. And an hour-long special of “Carpool Karaoke,” airing before the show, promises more big names than a Kardashian event (they, too, paired up with Corden earlier this month for the show’s “Take a Break!” segment).

Despite all the love, the British comedian leaves behind a lopsided legacy as he exits the late-night circuit.

Corden, 44, was hardly a household name in the U.S. when he succeeded Craig Ferguson in 2015. That would all change once audiences discovered that Corden offered two things which set him apart from his late-night peers: He had an endearing, affable personality that exuded feel-good vibes, and his show offered an irresistible segment called “Carpool Karaoke.”

Celebrities and dignitaries such as Will Smith, Michelle Obama, Stephen Curry and Adele rode in vehicles with Corden, cruising down streets they had a connection to in some way, singing in unison to hit songs. It was so much fun … until it wasn’t.

The perception of him as a jovial master of ceremonies began to slide in 2022, when stories and videos began surfacing that exposed another side of Corden, and it looked nothing like the nice guy America had fallen for. Keith McNally, the owner of the Manhattan restaurant Balthazar, called out Corden for his alleged demeaning treatment of the staff, posting on Instagram that the star was “the most abusive customer to my Balthazar servers since the restaurant opened 25 years ago.”

“The Late Late Show” host was banned from the eatery, then forgiven after he apologized. But it was also around that time that an old clip from “Spill Your Guts or Fill Your Guts,” a segment on his show, began circulating where Jimmy Kimmel asks Corden to name two of the cameramen in the room, which he was unable to do. It further eroded the public perception of Corden as a warm, obliging figure — you know, the guy who made fun of himself for being part of the 2019 flop “Cats” and wasn’t too proud to shill for Keurig coffee makers (they’re not Nespresso, after all).

Outing someone as rude should not be as big a deal in comparison to the scandals, beefs and egregious acts involving other public figures (examples surface hourly on social media). But acting like a jerk is a problem if the biggest edge you have over the competition is your jaunty, sparkling, goofy, good-guy persona.

Once a light and fun alternative to the sharp political satire of Stephen Colbert, the dry wit of Jimmy Kimmel and the politically-charged approach of Seth Meyers, Corden lost his footing. It doesn’t help that late-night talk shows no longer hold the sway they once did in the days of Johnny Carson, David Letterman or even Jay Leno. Total viewership on Corden’s show and his competitor, “Late Night With Seth Meyers” on NBC, plummeted by nearly a third between 2017 and 2022, from 2.8 million to 1.9 million. Other signs that the talk-show format was no longer king was Conan O’Brien’s exit when he stepped down from “Conan” in 2021, and the end of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last year after 19 seasons.

But Corden still attracted some of the biggest names to his show, some of whom are returning for the last episode to honor him. His charm was undeniable, and he had a knack for blending the grandiose with the commonplace in his regular segment “Crosswalk Musical.” Corden’s background in theater certainly helped him turn gimmicks into stagy events with lasting power. His YouTube channel features dozens of the segments with millions and millions of views. Adele’s first “Carpool Karaoke” appearance has more than a quarter of a billion hits. She revisited the show earlier this week, as a sort of goodbye to the host.

Corden announced last year that he was leaving the show to spend more time with his family. He said of the experience: “I always knew it was an adventure, and I never, ever considered it to be the final destination.” But it is the end of the road for “The Late Late Show.” CBS plans to fill the hour with a reboot of “@midnight,” a game show formerly on Comedy Central … executive produced by Colbert.

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