×

Inside the High-Pressure World of Late-Night Talk-Show Prop Demands

Television production is an area where “Hurry up and wait” is a common refrain. However, for the prop teams that work on late-night talk shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” that’s not an option. They typically have only a matter of hours to deliver what’s necessary.

Lou A. Trabbie III, set decorator on CBS’ “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” is used to working with tremendous time constraints when designing the program’s sets and props. As an example, Trabbie’s colleagues talk about the speed with which he and his team produced a fully realized parody of the Ariana Grande hit song “Thank U, Next.”

Corden turned the tune into “Thank U, Jeff” for a segment with actor Jeff Goldblum. Grande’s song dropped on a Friday afternoon, and the next morning Trabbie got a call about designing sets for the shoot. “We worked Sunday night, and I put the sets in on Monday,” Trabbie recalls. “We shot it, and they were airing it the next day. We’re a well-oiled machine here.”

Other late-night stories abound. Recently retired prop master David Scott, who spent the last 10 years of his career on Kimmel’s ABC show, says time was always his biggest enemy. For example, when the movie “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” was released in 2009, Kimmel wanted to make the world’s largest meatball and get it listed in “The Guinness Book of Records.” To qualify for that honor, numerous regulations have to be met, and Scott worked against the clock. 

“It had to be edible, so we went through different formulas and wound up using [200 pounds of] buffalo meat,” says the prop master. “We built the stainless steel form to put it in, but there weren’t large enough ovens to cook it. Luckily, I found chefs with giant walk-in ovens in Long Beach, where the cruise ships dock.” Scott’s efforts were successful, and Kimmel’s meatball broke the record at the time. “We celebrated with a really big party afterward,” he adds.

Both Scott and Trabbie work with tremendous time pressure, but Trabbie has an additional spatial challenge, since the studio for “Late Late Show” is on the second floor, and everything he uses on stage must fit inside a freight elevator — including, one time, a camel (which barely made it). 

Trabbie and Scott both credit their teams for their success. Each crew is more than double the size it would be on a scripted program, so they can achieve nearly anything with only a couple hours’ notice.  

“It’s different here every day,” says Trabbie.  “And it’s busy. Very busy.”

Working within this pressure-cooker environment, both Trabbie and Scott have a can-do attitude. “I very rarely say no,” notes Trabbie, “because I’m not that type. I stay calm.”  

Another key to success for a talk-show crew is trust, says Trabbie, because each program is developed around a single person whose name is on everything, and a good relationship with the host is key.

Of course, as success builds, demand for more difficult feats grows. “The bar keeps getting raised,” Scott says, “because we keep pulling it off.” 

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Alita: Battle Angel VFX

    How Previsualization Helps Create Pitches for Projects Like 'Alita: Battle Angel'

    Filmmakers are increasingly using previsualization, a now-standard technique for planning highly technical shots and sequences, as a tool for pitching a project to production companies, investors and studio executives — before a single full scene has actually been shot. More creatives are relying on the technique, dubbed “pitchvis,” to fashion a compelling and engaging presentation [...]

  • A Quiet Place

    Production Growth Stretches Crafts Talent Pool, but Experience Is Still Needed

    The growing number of outlets for movies and television means that demand for qualified artisans is at an all-time high. But while job opportunities have multiplied, the path to success — and potential elite status — is still a difficult one that requires on-the-job training, experience and skill development to deliver top-notch results. Some of [...]

  • Queen and Adam Lambert Live

    How the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour Brought the Opera to Arenas

    Just as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the biopic of late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, wowed moviegoers last year, stage design firm Stufish Entertainment Architects has helped Queen + Adam Lambert’s current U.S. tour deliver a screen spectacular of its own. The tour, which plays New Orleans on Aug. 20 and Atlanta on Aug. 22, touched down at [...]

  • Mark Damon, CEO & Chairman, Foresight

    Mark Damon's DCR Finance Receives $150 Million for Financing Georgia Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mark Damon’s DCR Finance Corp., co-headed with financer Adi Cohen, has received a $150 million investment from Go Media Productions for Georgia projects, Variety has learned exclusively. Damon, whose credits include “2 Guns” and “Lone Survivor,” made the announcement Monday with Cohen. The deal calls for Atlanta-based Go Media Productions to join a private placement as [...]

  • The Handmaid's Tale -- "Household" -

    ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Crew on Why the Lincoln Memorial Shoot Was Worth the Effort

    Shooting on location at a national monument may seem glamorous, but it often involves extensive prep to comply with strict regulations, restrictions and crowds — all for a short on-screen moment. For the cast and crew of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the seven months of planning and negotiations required for a one-day shoot at the [...]

  • Producer and crew on set. Twelve

    'Driven' Kept Shoot in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria to Help Locals

    Behind-the-scenes featurettes have long enumerated the many obstacles any movie or TV show has had to overcome to reach the theater or TV screen. But few films faced hardships as severe as those overcome by “Driven,” the real-life hero-to-zero story of automaker John DeLorean (played by Lee Pace) and his misadventures with ex-con pilot-turned-FBI informant [...]

  • The Righteous GemstonesAdam Devine, Danny McBride,

    How Televangelists, Elvis Inspired Costumes for HBO's 'The Righteous Gemstones'

    HBO’s new comedy series “The Righteous Gemstones,” about a famous family of televangelists whose dysfunction runs far deeper than its Christianity, seems to exist in its own time and place. Set in present-day Texas, the inspiration for the Gemstone family — played by John Goodman, series creator Danny McBride, Edi Patterson and Adam Devine — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content