When Jimmy Fallon’s popular late-night segment-turned-spinoff “That’s My Jam” launches on the BBC on Saturday, British comedian Mo Gilligan will be at the helm, making his debut in a major primetime slot.
Gilligan and Fallon have a lot in common: Both have reinvigorated late-night TV on their respective sides of the pond. With catchy segments like “History of Rap” and “Lip Sync Battle,” Fallon brought a musical flavor to late night long before James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” ever pulled up. Meanwhile, Gilligan, host of Channel 4’s “The Lateish Show” and “The Big Narstie Show,” shepherded a new wave of British late-night programming.
“It’s not to say there weren’t ones before,” says Gilligan, citing Alan Carr and Graham Norton as earlier U.K. late-night stars. It was more saying, “Where do I fit in, being a young Black guy? I really wanted to bring my own identity.”
Like so many new presenters in Britain, Gilligan got his start on YouTube, where he posted his stand-up specials to an avid fan base that included rapper Drake. That success eventually translated into TV, and Gilligan is now a ubiquitous presence on broadcasters like Channel 4, where in addition to being a late-night mainstay, he and AJ Odudu also helped to revive the iconic morning show “The Big Breakfast.”
“That’s My Jam,” however, represents a watershed moment in Gilligan’s career. He was approached about hosting a U.K. adaptation more than a year ago and spent lengthy chunks of time in Los Angeles observing the first season of NBC’s primetime game show while it was filmed.
“I keep saying that if this is the one thing I’ve ever done, then I’d be happy with that,” Gilligan tells Variety at the Covent Garden Hotel, proudly revealing that he was in the audience for the legendary musical showdown between Kelly Clarkson and Ariana Grande, which has racked up 35 millions views on YouTube in the last year. “You watch how it gets better and better and better, and I’m just sitting in the studio,” says Gilligan. That’s when he realized “That’s My Jam” was a “big, heavy-hitting show.”
Fallon’s primetime “That’s My Jam,” which features an array of celebrities doing everything from belting out power ballads to playing quick-fire games, debuted in January and returns for Season 2 in March. But Gilligan was encouraged to make the BBC spinoff his own. “There was a lot of trust in me with someone else’s idea, essentially,” he says.
“But then, what was really nice as we started doing the pilot [was hearing], ‘We don’t want you to be like Jimmy. We want you to be like you.’ That, for me, was the catalyst to go, ‘Okay, cool, I want to make something of my own and have fun with it.’”
Produced by Universal International Studios-owned Monkey in association with Universal Alternative Studio, the U.K. edition of “That’s My Jam” promises a bevy of celebrities — attachments that are likely aided by the show being shot in Los Angeles as opposed to London.
“It’s the best way to have the transatlantic link,” says Gilligan of the arrangement, which is slightly unorthodox for a big Saturday night BBC entertainment proposition, but is an experiment that may just pay off for the public broadcaster.
“I mean, when you look at Marvel shows, they’re all filmed here [in the U.K.] at Pinewood Studios. This is how TV is becoming a much closer-knit community in the sense that we’re able to film a show out there, and have it still feel British,” says Gilligan.
The U.K. version, he promises, will have its share of ’90s Britpop like S Club 7 and Take That, but confirmed guests also include a number of U.S. stars such as Salt-N-Pepa, Donny Osmond, Amber Riley and Jason Derulo, in addition to British singers including Alesha Dixon and Becky Hill. Gilligan also hints at a number of new games, such as “50 Points,” as well as a healthy dollop of U.K. grime via songs from Stormzy and Tinie Tempah.
Does he have any dream guests? “I definitely would want Adele to do it. Imagine Adele doing a Mixtape Medley Showdown with Beyoncé. Like, the internet would crumble.”