LOS ANGELES – James Corden began his foray as the “Late Late Show” host with a schoolboy’s giggle and a bid to endear himself to viewers as a nice English bloke looking for a little American TV love.
Guests Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis joined the cause Monday, with videotaped cameos from celebrities including Meryl Streep, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jay Leno.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘Oh, look, Andy Richter’s got his own show,’ ” Corden said as he strode onto the CBS Television City stage.
The reference to Conan O'Brien’s sidekick wasn’t far afield: Corden and Richter both are round-faced, egg-shaped and genial. But this time, the apparent second banana is the star and part of CBS' new late-night guard that will include Stephen Colbert as successor to “Late Show” host David Letterman.
The British-born Corden has the credentials for top billing, with TV sitcom hits in his native country including “Gavin & Stacey,” a Tony Award for “One Man, Two Guvnors” on Broadway and a big-screen role in “Into the Woods.”
But Corden downplayed his career and played up his family, introducing himself as married – “Sorry, ladies, this ship has sailed” – and the father of a 4-year-old son and infant daughter.
“I promise you we’re going to have fun on this show, and I promise you we’re going to do everything we can to put a smile on your face before, or let’s be honest, more likely whilst you fall asleep,” Corden pledged, earnestly.
His parents, visiting Los Angeles from the U.K. for the first time, were in the audience and came in for gentle ribbing.
“They’re eating kale every day. My mom’s getting a boob job next week,” he said.
Corden’s brief opening bypassed topical jokes, possibly a sign of his style and certainly because the show was recorded Sunday. Giggles punctuated his remarks, indicating opening-night jitters for the first-time TV host who replaced Craig Ferguson.
The show’s fast-moving credits sent Corden and musician-comedian Reggie Watts, his bandleader, on a red-convertible tour of LA. Then Corden cued a video that purported to show how he, a relative unknown here, got the plum job.
CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, announcing a new “Late Late” host will be picked “the way we’ve always done it,” hides a golden ticket inside a candy bar wrapper. Hopefuls seen searching for it include Simon Cowell, Lena Dunham (“This is misogyny,” she declares, after coming up empty) and Katie Couric.
When Jenny McCarthy drops her unopened winning bar, Corden finds it and he’s in – after Leno takes on the task of getting him ready (which includes slaps and, yes, waterboarding). Help also comes from Streep as a guardian angel and Shia LaBeouf as a mock guest who tests Corden’s listening skills with his self-absorption.
“I’m a deeply dissatisfied person. And I think that’s a job requirement for any actor,” LaBeouf says, drawing yawns from Corden.
Then it was back to the studio and something new, at least on the American talk show scene, as Corden brought Hanks and Kunis out at the same time in the style of some British talk shows. More change came with the seating chart: Corden was parked at a desk to the right of his guests, and even wheeled his chair out to cozy up to them.
“I’m thrown by it,” Hanks said, wryly, of the spatial upheaval.
Good-guy Hanks later launched himself into a survey of his many films, he and Corden rapidly changing outfits and props to depict scenes from old films (“Sleepless in Seattle”) and new (“Captain Phillips”).
Kunis’ starring moment came when Corden noted a ring on her left hand and tried to pry out if she and fiance Ashton Kutcher, with whom she had a baby last year, had tied the knot. She said “maybe,” then appeared to shake her head no.
The evening ended with a song from Corden, in which he promised, “I'll be right back here tomorrow and I hope you will too.”
If viewers don’t immediately take the bait, the show’s producers have pointed out they have two more opportunities to reintroduce Corden: During the hoopla over Letterman’s retirement in May and when Colbert debuts in September.