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.”
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