The Late Late Show with James Corden showrunner Ben Winston has revealed how unexpected impacts of the labor strikes cost his production company an unscripted series greenlight.
In a wide-ranging interview with Richard Bacon at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Winston said he believed effects of the actors and writers strike were now filtering into unscripted commissioning. This was because studios and streamers are unsure of their overall budgets until new deals are struck with actors and writers unions, meaning spending on original series of any genre is an added risk.
“We were named as a company that would do well during the strikes because we’re known for unscripted but it hasn’t been the case in any way,” said Winston, who runs UK-U.S. producer Fulwell73 with partners including The Late, Late Show presenter and actor James Corden.
“We had a big show with a big streamer. It was greenlit and done and it’s now on pause and on hold. Part of the reason — and this is my interpretation — is the streamers don’t know how much money scripted shows are going to cost after all of this.
“For all they know their Star Wars series or Netflix show could be 25% more on budget as a result of the deal they make so therefore they can’t actually spend money on a premium unscripted show because they don’t know how much budget they’re going to have.”
The lack of commissions and the level of freelancers out of work in the UK have been major topics of discussion this week at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Winston said he was “really aware” of the situation, despite much of The Kardashians producer Fulwell73’s business being in the U.S.
He said that despite its U.S. success, his company was feeling the pressure as it pushes deeper in the UK and branches out into new areas such as podcasting and studio ownership, the latter through a new 1.68 million sq ft studio complex in Manchester known as FulwellCain Studios.
“I’m really aware of the crisis that’s going on right now with the lack of commissions, and it is drying up for us as well, hugely,” said Winston. “The strike has really had an impact on us, and that’s even more so why Britain is exciting for us.
“We love being a production company and it will always be what I do because that’s what I love but the studio is a business decision for us. We are starting an audio division that will have two podcasts next year. We can’t rely on just one source of income as a company.
“My hope is that is all cyclical and we to make sure we position ourselves well enough with the right people so when times are little easier and the overspend has been recovered from, we’re in a decent position.”
He also revealed that this coming Monday he was flying to LA with Northern Ireland-based indie Stellify Media to pitch CBS an unnamed show the two UK indies have created.
‘James Corden Is A Genius’
Elsewhere in the session, Winston talked at length about the creation — and ending — of The Late Late Show with James Corden, which Fulwell73 co-produced with CBS Studios from 2015 to April 2023.
He recalled how Corden had first told him about the opportunity to make the show.
“James came to meet me for lunch and said, ‘I’ve been offered The Late, Late Show and I’m really considering taking it,’ and I said ‘I think that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life,’ because he was doing some many different things. He was in a movie, Into the Woods, he’d just won a Tony and he had A League of Their Own. I said, ‘Why would you want to go and interview people every night?’”
“He said we would have a blank piece of paper to make an hour of network television every night. I noticed two things: one, he was right, and the two, he was saying ‘we.’ We went out to LA and the rest was history.”
Winston recalled how Fulwell73 would launch 12-15-minute non-exclusive videos segments online to test their appeal. “We realised we were working for a beast in CBS, number one in America, so how could we monetize that? [Online video] was a good way of knowing whether a segment was working,” he said. “We could take bits like Carpool Karaoke and Drop the Mic to brands, and before you knew it Heineken was sponsoring our bar and Selena Gomez was very subtly drinking a McDonalds cup in a Carpool.”
Winston said he would miss working daily with his “best mate” Corden following the show’s ending, adding: “I don’t want to sound over-blown, but I genuinely think he’s a genius.”
Since the show’s ending, Corden has moved back to the UK, and Winston said: “It’s been, outside of my wife, the most beautiful relationship of my life, because we try and just always make each other better. At the end of the day, we just have each others’ support in everything that we do and I’ll definitely miss that now he’s moved to London and left me.”
Quizzed on how he would miss the late night show, he responded: “It was really nice for the business.”
That was before he praised Corden for the decision to end the series. “He always said it was part of the journey and not the destination. For him to give it up at his age made me respect him even more. “
Winston, who produces the Grammys, also confirmed Fulwell73 would produce the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Paris, with him showrunning the 15-minute segment as the French capital passes over the torch to the following host city, LA. “I love challenges and challenging ourselves. Live telly really does that,” he said.
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