How the Hell Did ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden’ Lose $20M Every Year?

Massive losses on ‘The Late Late Show’ may have meant that the show was close to the ax whether or not Corden walked away
How the Hell Did ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden’ Lose $20M Every Year?

Add the CBS accounting department to the long list of people excited to be rid of James Corden on The Late Late Show.

Shortly before the conclusion of Corden’s tenure this past Thursday, April 28th, Brian Stelter of Los Angeles Magazine released some interesting tidbits about the show from his inside sources who claim that, even if Corden didn’t exit the timeslot gracefully, the show was headed toward massive cuts due to its wholly unsustainable production costs — $65 million per year, to be exact.

With an estimated annual revenue of under $45 million, this means The Late Late Show was likely spending more per year than the entire payroll of some MLB teams just to lose a cool $20 million while giving us timeless cringe such as Corden’s “Crosswalk: The Musical” pelvic thrusts. Was it worth it, Moonves?

“It was simply not sustainable,” one unnamed executive reported. “CBS could not afford him anymore.” Though CBS has claimed that they “desperately” tried to retain Corden for an extra three seasons before he made the decision to walk, Stelter says that Corden would have had to face “a multimillion-dollar pay cut or painful staff reductions or both” in order to keep The Late Late Show going after years of massive deficits.

Corden’s salary reportedly started at around $4 million to $5 million when he began his time at CBS back in 2015, but even with generous salary bumps after each successive season, the $65 million figure that Stelter was given is a staggeringly high price tag for a format that, historically, doesn’t need much more than a soundstage, a desk and an uncomfortable couch to put on a show.

Though networks such as CBS are not in the habit of publicizing their production costs, we can make some educated guesses as to where that money went based on Corden’s farewell tour — especially the grand finale. Flying Corden and Tom Cruise around in fighter jets before having them perform The Lion King with the musical’s actual Broadway cast in the show's final episode couldn’t have been cheap, and Corden’s proclivity for fanfare throughout his run on The Late Late Show could very well have been a contributing factor to the deficit throughout the run.

With a yearly loss of $20 million on a single show, it would seem mind-boggling for CBS to try and extend Corden’s run on The Late Late Show, but there’s one factor that could very well have kept the show afloat — having a late-night talk show on your network means having cheap, accessible promotion for any CBS series four nights a week, 34 weeks per year. Add in Corden’s clickability and adoration for anything pop culture, and that big red number seems (slightly) more digestible.

Nevertheless, the decision to eliminate The Late Late Show entirely and fill the timeslot with a more downscaled program in the @midnight reboot tells us that CBS is tightening their purse strings, and we’ll probably never see a nightly production at the level of Corden’s show again. 

The accountants at CBS and the waiters of New York City just shared a sigh of relief.

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