Late Late Show Producer Ben Winston on James Corden Exit, Kardashians – The Hollywood Reporter

Ben Winston never planned to enter an eighth year at his CBS Television City office, a bright room now filled with memories of an ascending Hollywood tenure that won him 11 Emmys. The Briton, 40, arrived in 2015 with every intention of returning to London after fulfilling his nine-month contract to help launch a late-night talk show with longtime friend and fellow Brit James Corden. He just kept on staying. Now, as Corden prepares for a 2023 release of The late show — and, presumably, LA — his frequent producing partner is staying put. “I thought I was coming for a few months, and now I have two American kids,” Winston said on Zoom in early June. “[My wife] Meredith loves it here, and the kids do too. I’m in real trouble.

There are also other works… like many. In the past 15 months alone, Fulwell 73 – the company co-founded by childhood friends Leo Pearlman, Ben Turner, Gabe Turner and Winston and later joined by Corden – has produced two Grammy Awards television shows, Friends: Reunion and Adele’s Griffith Park CBS Concert Special. They also launched The Kardashians and sent a deservedly panicked Corden into a vintage fighter jet piloted by Tom Cruise. And, according to Winston, they’re just getting started.

Ben Winston was photographed June 3 on the CBS lot in Los Angeles. His office, Spartan the first time THR visited in 2015, now full of memorabilia from the Fulwell 73 projects, UK memorabilia and entertainment curiosities.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

The first time you spoke with THR, your Hollywood clock was already ticking. What made you stay?

I was 100% back in the UK, I had three months to set up the show and another six to help keep it running. My contract was as long as my rental. But I didn’t want to leave the show because it was getting really exciting.

Tell me about conversations with James about moving on.

I think James never felt like it was the end for him. It was something he was going to do – brilliantly, in my opinion, better than anyone – but it was still part of a bigger journey. And he’ll only be 43 when he’s done.

A daily show can be stressful.

And our show is so ambitious, whether it’s flying on a plane with Tom Cruise, doing a music video with Harry Styles in three hours, or doing a skit with President Biden in the Oval Office. We want to do a variety show every night, and I’m not sure a host can do that for 20 years. James felt the time was right to go one more year without COVID. Of course, COVID still exists, but we are able to do things that we haven’t been able to do for the past two years. So many shows have been able to do what they usually did during COVID: you can do a monologue from home and interview guests on Zoom. These shows weren’t as affected as ours. We got our wings clipped, so it’s nice to be able to come back to a crosswalk, we can sit in a car. This past year will be a celebration of variety in the show.

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A Ben Winston Muppet that his wife commissioned in his likeness.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

How much paperwork goes into putting James on a plane with Tom Cruise for a Superior gun promotion?

Insurance-wise, it helped that it was a Paramount movie and we’re all one company. But it was complicated. About four nights before, I woke up in a hotel room in New York to an email that James had sent me and our executive producer, Rob Crabbe, from the next room. He basically said, “Guys, this is crazy. Tom Cruise is an actor, and I’m about to get on a really old plane with him. I have children and I love my life. We have to get out of this. He was really scared.

So how did you tell her about meyou?

It’s not me on that plane, I can’t be the one pushing it. So we let Tom be that guy. I think when you look Tom Cruise in the eye and see that look, you just have to agree. (Laughs.)

What was the most humbling moment here in Hollywood?

I can’t tell you how difficult it was to book guests [early on]. I had no connection in America. James was not well known. I remember talking to a publicist about what we wanted the show to be, and she said, “It sounds great, but we’ll wait three weeks and see how it goes.” I said to myself: “But we may not last three weeks!”

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The Friends put the peephole – “I got this after the meeting and the cast signed it; the peephole is the true original of the series.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

Which sight was the most intimidating: Adele one night only in LA or An audience with Adele in London?

The one in Griffith Park, and it almost didn’t happen. We got the keys to the park on Friday and did the editing that Saturday so we could rehearse on Sunday and record on Monday. The forecast all week was sunny, sunny, sunny, but a 100% chance of thunder and lightning all Monday. It was an outdoor event, with all that electric stuff, plus Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Leonardo DiCaprio and Drake in the audience. We were heading for absolute disaster. The stress and tension was unbearable, so I told Adele about it, and she asked, “What’s plan B?” The only thing we could do was not rehearse and film on Sunday. So we reached out to all that audience, with 24 hours notice, and invited them all to come a day early.

It’s countless A-listers and a guy who makes a surprise marriage proposal…

I called him and he managed to reschedule his entire date. But even still, if you propose to someone on Monday, you are really preparing for that day. So suddenly it’s a day early, and he didn’t know anything about the audience. He didn’t know Beyoncé would be there. No, she wasn’t there. Maybe she was. There were some people in the audience that we weren’t even allowed to film.

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A piece of David Letterman’s bridge game fashioned into a table.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

With The kardashianswhat were the times when you thought, “Wow, what have we gotten ourselves into?”

I had never watched an episode of keeping up with the Kardashians, which meant I could meet them with an open mind. And when I interviewed producers and showrunners, I said, “We’re making a documentary about six incredibly brilliant independent businesswomen who are mostly billionaires. These are some of their individual stories, and they are all connected. Oh, and it’s the Kardashians. I think that’s the fundamental difference in the series. So there are superficial differences in the show. It’s a little better shot. There are fewer cheating edits, which I always hate on reality shows. But, basically, it’s now more of a documentary.

Yet what does the producer in you think when you see a TMZ alert that Pete Davidson is dating Kim?

I remember turning to Emma Conway, one of the executive producers, and asking her, “What if they get really boring?” It’s not a problem with their family.

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A DVD of the company’s first film (the 2007 sports documentary In the hands of the gods).
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

Will you be producing a third Grammys TV show?

Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of The Recording Academy, is a breath of fresh air. I can’t say enough good things about him, which is very rare in large organizations. Usually they are just a pain. I never even asked him if I would do it next year. I just guess I am. It would be incredibly rude if he wanted to get rid of me. (Laughs.)

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A figurine of Queen Elizabeth II: “I’m very British, and it’s her jubilee party.”
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

Have you ever considered working in front of the camera?

People have mentioned it in the past, but I’ve never been asked. That’s not what I do. And I think I’m really good at what I do.

Sounds like you might be good at it.

Put my agent right away. Let’s do a show. (Laughs.)

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A portrait of Ben’s father, Lord Robert Winston: “My father is a legend. He was one of the first pioneers of in vitro fertilization.
Photographed by Yasara Gunawardena

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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