If first impressions count -- of course they do -- then the new host of CBS's "Late Late Show," James Corden, made the right one Monday night: The one where doubts are erased or yawns are stifled.
Corden clearly appears to have the goods. He's also got a great honking laugh that sounds like a flock of geese passing overhead, and a declamatory interviewing style that's a rush of words, thoughts, impressions, and observations -- almost none of which appear to have any resemblance to an actual "question." Most importantly, he has an obvious ability to perform bits that'll hold up in the cold light of dawn, or more specifically on the Internet.
As expected, he is a not-too-distant reflection of Jimmy Fallon, the host du jour, or du noir. It's the type of host -- and it is a type -- where performance skills are prized and interviewing ones are irrelevant.
If you can sing, or act in front of blue screen, and trade stories with Mila Kunis, or hold your own with Tom Hanks in a skit expressly engineered to go viral, then you are more than halfway to the brass ring. (See: Above.)
Corden also appears to be a late night enthusiast, as opposed to a late night dissident -- the latter, Corden's predecessor, Craig Ferguson, who viewed the world half-darkly, full of scoundrels and reprobates, and wasn't entirely certain whether he wasn't one as well.
Ferguson was hilarious, but his style actually was best suited to the dead of night, where doubtless some members of the viewing audience were either stoned or wondering what they were doing up at one in the morning.
In fact, Corden kept making references to people who were watching him in real time. But as Fallon and his immensely successful "Tonight" have established, late night TV isn't about "late night" anymore, but the next morning, or next day, or next "anytime." Even "Tonight's" website is designed like a banquet table, where fans can graze at their leisure, and do. Far more people watch "Tonight" online than on TV -- probably the same with "Jimmy Kimmel Live," which was one of the pioneers of late-night-anytime, with its successful YouTube channel.
(One of Corden's executive producers on "Late Late Show," Rob Crabbe, was a longtime segment producer for Fallon, both on "Late Night" and "Tonight).
Meanwhile, those opening night clips -- Tom Hanks' film career in eight minutes, and the real story behind Corden's late night ascendance. Check out both here and draw your own conclusions, but they were sly, smart, and entertaining.
Again, first impressions count, and so do second ones. Let's see how Corden does tonight, and the night after that. At least he made us want to.
Some stray observations/criticisms.
- A bar? Sponsored by Bud Light? Really? As "Kimmel" learned, drinking and late night TV driving don't mix. When Kimmel launched "Live," audience members and even guests were encouraged to have cocktails, and when Disney chief Michael Eisner attended the opening show, one of those audience members regurgitated his drink while sitting next to the boss. From that point on, drinking was out. This bar seems like either a bad idea or an irrelevant one.
-- Reggie Watts needs to be Reggie Watts. We got a taste of Watts last night, but "Late Late Show" appears to be holding him back a bit. As his fans know, Watts is a fascinating figure in his own right, although his style -- Timothy Leary-meets-Jean Paul Sartre-meets-Frank Zappa -- might be too sharp a contrast to the affable Corden. Probably better to introduce him slowly.