James Corden and the hit show that nearly never was

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In two years, James Corden’s “The Late Late Show” has become an Emmy Award-winning benchmark for innovative late-night TV, spawning viral videos watched by hundreds of millions of fans around the world.

Yet the British comedian and actor revealed this week that the latest incarnation of the CBS talk show almost didn’t happen — thanks to a derisory contract offer from executives.

“CBS called to say they’d like me to do a test reel for ‘The Late Late Show’ and I was like ‘I don’t know’ because I was doing this musical on Broadway and I was writing this show,” the British funnyman said in Hollywood on Wednesday.

“Then they just offered me the show and it was a terrible offer. Anyone here from CBS will know the offer was appalling. And I said no to that,” he told a Q&A session at the annual PaleyFest television festival.

Corden, 38, said executives came back with an better deal after three months and he realized if he continued to say no, he would be turning down a dream opportunity to “be creative every day.”

Since taking over “The Late Late Show” from Craig Ferguson in March 2015, Corden has redefined the late-night talk show, bringing back the tradition — long lost in the US — of guests sharing the sofa.

He has also popularized a joyously daft collection of recurring comical segments, two of which — Carpool Karaoke and Drop the Mic — have become viral pop cultural phenomena.

“Carpool Karaoke,” a skit in which celebrities from Justin Bieber to Michelle Obama sing along with popular hits in a moving car, is being made into a 16-episode spin-off series for Apple Music.

– Slow start –

Corden introduced the segment soon after the show started and it quickly took on a life beyond late-night television, with 1.3 billion views on YouTube.

The most successful skit starred Adele, the mega-star British ballad singer who showed a close-up and more laid-back side to herself.

Adele’s segment has been seen more than 152 million times on YouTube in 14 months, the most ever for a segment from the world of late-night television comedy.

Corden and executive producers Ben Winston and Rob Crabbe “had never been more sure” of an idea, the comedian and actor told the audience at the event.

But “Carpool Karaoke” got off to a slow start with every celebrity approached refusing to take part.

“Everyone in this room, just in your mind, think of a recording artist. Pop one in your head, see them, think of their name,” Corden instructed the packed Dolby Theatre.

“Everyone got one? They said no.”

Over 80 minutes, Corden, Winston and Crabbe answered numerous questions about making the show from audience members and the moderator, actor Bradley Whitford of “The West Wing” fame.

One fan asked if Corden would consider having President Donald Trump as a guest.

“When he was running for president, he didn’t stop by our show, but I felt like we had the absolute game to play with Donald Trump,” Corden said.

“I really felt like the game I wanted to play if he came on the show was called ‘Stand By It, or Take It Back’ (with) Donald Trump and things that he had said on the campaign trail.

“You’ve got a chance now… do you stand by it or take it back? If you take it back, you have to take it back forever and if you stand by it, you’ve got to tell me why. I felt like that was such a good game… but he never came by.”

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