By R.V. Baugus
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon came to the University of Texas at Austin for its first-ever college campus show on November 17. The taped show was held on campus at the Bass Concert Hall and before 2,500 students who won tickets in a lottery.
Will Shirey, talent buyer – concerts and strategic programming for Texas Performing Arts, caught a breath to talk about the event, how it came together, and just how dang cool it was for the university to have the distinction of hosting the show.
How did Mr. Fallon’s appearance come about?
As Jimmy Fallon tells it, he was watching ESPN College Gameday live from the University of Texas at Austin and he loved the students’ energy so much that he wanted to take the show on the road to a university for the first time. The NBC producers reached out to the University of Texas President’s office first and were met with a warm reception so then we all got to work to figure out how we could make it happen together. The same day we cleared the production needs and confirmed the dates with NBC, Fallon announced the UT taping on his show.
How was it decided which venue on campus to use?
On NBC’s first visit to the UT campus, they scouted a few locations, but once they walked onto the Bass Concert Hall stage it was the clear front-runner from a production standpoint as well as aesthetically for the audience shots during the show. We were also able to move some dates around and figure out a way for the production schedules of the shows that were already onsale in their seven-day load-in, three-day load-out window to coexist and fulfill everyone’s needs.
How much preparation/lead time did you have to prepare for the appearance?
We officially confirmed and announced in mid-September and load-in started on Halloween, so about a month and a half of committed, official preparation and execution time. We had a few weeks prior to the announce to establish the tentative plan with NBC, but it was definitely a sprint to the finish.
How was it determined who could attend?
Similar to the tapings for the show at the studio in New York, the university ran an online ticket application for UT students that was open for 48 hours and ticket winners were chosen randomly from the list of applicants. We had 17,418 unique student applications for over 30,000 tickets with +1 requests. Ticket holders entered the building first for the show and at a pre-set deadline any empty seats were filled with people waiting in a separate standby line. We had about 10 times the capacity of the usual studio audience so we worked closely with the NBC Audience team to make sure every seat was filled before Jimmy ran onto the stage.
What did the exposure mean for the venue and the university?
I think it was a huge win for everyone involved. It was a unique, entertaining, and high energy college taping for The Tonight Show, a once in a lifetime opportunity for 2,500 UT students and an hour-long national commercial for the University of Texas and Bass Concert Hall. It made current students and alumni proud and I can only imagine how many prospective students interest it piqued to apply to UT. Bass Concert Hall got a few shoutouts on the show, some beautiful shots from inside the hall and images of the outside of the building that showcased the room at its finest. Hosting the show has definitely added momentum to our programming and development efforts.
Anything different logistically you had to do for the appearance inside the venue?
Outside of making sure all of the seats were filled for the show and pulling some seats for the various camera platforms on each level of the house we didn’t change much look of the hall itself. The show brought in quite a bit of additional lighting for the audience shots, but most everything you see on camera is the existing look of the room.
What was Jimmy’s take on the venue, if he shared that with anyone?
He was overwhelmed with the energy and size of the audience that was there for the show. On multiple occasions he pointed up to the top of the second balcony and got the people all the way in the back of the house worked into a frenzy.
Word of advice to any campus venue preparing for an event like this would be to (fill in the blank!):
Have something to offer to people who waited for hours in the standby line and still aren’t able to make it into the show. We knew we would have far more demand from students than seats in the room so the university set up a huge LED screen on the LBJ Lawn right across the street from Bass where students could watch the taping live from the stage before it aired that night. Once we hit capacity in Bass and had to close the doors it was great to have a place to send students where they could still feel like they were a part of the action. Otherwise I think we may have had a riot on our hands!
Photos by Andrew Lipovsky/NBC