Ben Winston never planned on entering an eighth year at his CBS Television City office, a bright room now stuffed with memorabilia from an ascendant Hollywood tenure that’s brought him 11 Emmys. The Brit, 40, arrived in 2015 with every intention of returning to London upon fulfilling his nine-month contract to help launch a late night talk show with longtime pal and fellow British import James Corden. He just kept sticking around. Now, as Corden preps a 2023 exit from The Late Late Show — and, likely, L.A. — his frequent producing partner is staying put. “I thought I was coming for a few months, and now I have two American children,” Winston says over Zoom in early June. “[My wife] Meredith loves it here, and so do the kids. I’m in real trouble.”
There’s also other work … like, a lot of it. 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 telecasts, Friends: The Reunion and Adele’s Griffith Park CBS concert special. They also launched The Kardashians and sent a justifiably panicked Corden up in a vintage fighter plane piloted by Tom Cruise. And, per Winston, they’re just getting started.
The first time you spoke with THR, your Hollywood clock was already ticking. What made you stay?
I was 100 percent going back to the U.K. I had three months to set up the show and six more to help run it. My contract was as long as my rental. But I didn’t want to leave the show because it was just getting really exciting.
Tell me about the conversations with James about moving on.
I think James never felt like this was an end stop for him. This was something he was going to do — brilliantly, in my opinion, better than anybody else — but it always felt like part of a bigger journey. And he’ll only be 43 when he’s done.
A daily show can be grueling.
And our show is so ambitious, whether it’s flying on a plane with Tom Cruise, making a music video with Harry Styles in three hours or doing a sketch with President Biden in the Oval Office. We want to make a variety show every night, and I’m not sure one host can do that for 20 years. James felt like the time was right to do one more year without COVID. Of course, COVID still exists, but we’re able to do things we couldn’t do for the last two years. So many shows were able to do what they usually did during COVID: You can do a monologue from home and interview guests on Zoom. Those shows weren’t as affected as ours was. We had our wings clipped, so it’s lovely that we can get back on a crosswalk, we can sit in a car. This last year will be a celebration of the variety of the show.
How much red tape is involved in putting James on a plane with Tom Cruise for a Top Gun promo?
Insurance-wise, it helped that it was a Paramount film and we’re all one company. But it was complicated. About four nights before, I woke up in a New York hotel room to an email James had sent to me and our executive producer, Rob Crabbe, from the room next door. He basically said, “Guys, this is insane. Tom Cruise is an actor, and I’m about to like go up in a really old plane with him. I’ve got kids, and I love my life. We need to get out of this.” He was really afraid.
So how did you talk him into it?
It’s not me in that plane, I can’t be the guy that pushes him onto it. So we let Tom be that guy. I think when you look at Tom Cruise in the eye, and you see that stare, you just have to agree. (Laughs.)
What’s been the most humbling moment here in Hollywood?
I can’t tell you how difficult it was to book guests [early on]. I had no connections in America. James wasn’t well known. I remember speaking to a publicist about what we wanted the show to be, and she said, “Sounds great, but we’re going to wait three weeks and see how it goes.” I was like, “But we might not last three weeks!”
What show was more intimidating: Adele One Night Only in L.A. or An Audience With Adele in London?
The Griffith Park one, and it nearly didn’t happen. We got the keys to the park on Friday and did the build-out that Saturday so we could rehearse on Sunday and tape on Monday. The forecast all week was sun, sun, sun, but a 100 percent chance of thunder and lightning all Monday. This was an outdoor event, with all this electrical stuff, plus Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Leonardo DiCaprio and Drake in the audience. We were cruising for absolute disaster. The stress and tension was unbearable, so I told Adele, and she asked, “What’s plan B?” The only thing we could do was not rehearse and film Sunday. So, we contacted that entire audience, on 24 hours’ notice, and got them all to come a day early.
These are countless A-listers and a guy doing a surprise marriage proposal …
I called him and he managed to shift his entire date. But even still, if you’re proposing to somebody on Monday, you’re really getting ready for that day. So suddenly it’s a day earlier, and he didn’t know about the audience. He didn’t know Beyoncé would be there. No, she wasn’t there. Maybe she was. There were certain people in the audience that we weren’t even allowed to film.
With the Kardashians, what were the moments where you thought, “Wow, what have we gotten into?”
I’d 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’d say, “We are making a documentary about six incredibly brilliant independent businesswomen who are mostly billionaires. These are some of their individual stories, and they’re all related. Oh, and they’re the Kardashians.” I think that’s why there are superficial differences to the show. It’s shot a little bit nicer. There’s less cheating edits, which I always hate on reality shows. It’s a documentary.
Still, what is the producer in you thinking 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, “What if they just become really boring?” That is not a problem with their family.
Will you be producing a third Grammys telecast?
Harvey Mason Jr., the CEO of The Recording Academy, is a breath of fresh air. I can’t speak highly enough about him, which is very rare in big organizations. Usually, they’re just a pain. I’ve never even asked him if I’m doing it next year. I just assume I am. It would be incredibly rude if he wanted to get rid of me. (Laughs.)
Have you ever considered doing on-camera work?
People have mentioned that in the past, but I’ve never been asked. It’s not what I do. And I think I’m really good at what I do.
Seems like you could be good at it.
Put my agent on right now. Let’s do a show. (Laughs.)
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.