Late night talk show lovers have been known to make pilgrimages to New York or Los Angeles just to take in the full Conan or Letterman experience. In the case of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, however, the digital content team has fixed it so that even fans who can’t make it to the studio get that behind-the-scenes thrill.
Late Night’s first interactive video is a Choose Your Own Adventure-style backstage tour of the show, which provides almost intrusive access to most areas within the two floors of 30 Rockefeller Center where the show is created (including the fabled Muppet Pipes). It is perhaps the most ambitious project yet from the crew running Late Night’s Emmy-winning blog, a group devoted to bringing viewers into the world of the show.
"Originally it was going to be a simple video," says Cory Cavin, head of the online content team. "We shot the test on a Flipcam, and the more we talked about it, the more we thought about making this a big thing and putting in characters from the show and it just grew and grew from there."
Cavin and his fellow bloggers Josh Lay and Emmy Blotnick were brainstorming with producer Gavin Purcell and web producer Adam Abramson about different ways to show off the offices to fans. Eventually they landed on the idea of a video introducing the show’s staff, who often make appearances on-air; this way, viewers could see some familiar faces and also get a peek behind the curtain. It wasn’t long before the suggestion of a multifaceted interactive video emerged and beloved characters like Mets Bucket Hat Guy were suiting up for the shoot.
All told, the team wrote and filmed 22 videos, which are around a minute-long each. The tour covers nearly the entire operation, minus one or two off-limits areas. "I told my friends that if they got tickets to the show and I gave them a tour of the studio, they wouldn’t be allowed to see all the places we show on this video," Cavin says. "It definitely goes places we don’t ordinarily take people."
All three core members of the Late Night online content team originally moved to New York to do comedy. Cory and Josh, who also produce a web series together, met in a class at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre, and ended up working together at Best Week Ever before moving to Fallon. Emmy Blotnick, the more prolific stand-up of the three, had interned at Late Night before signing on as a blogger. Although the three occasionally host live shows together at night, during the day this crew has a two-part mission: producing extra content that’s not necessarily in the on-air voice of the show, and connecting with fans in as many ways as possible.
The additional content located on the blog takes on many forms. Late Night Eats, for example, began as a way for Cavin to coax a post-show cooking lesson out of guest David Chang of Momofuku fame. The video of Chang showing how to make insanely good ramen noodles for the broke college student contingent begat a tradition that continues whenever chefs drops by on Late Night.
Through the talent bookers, the blog team petitions nearly every guest that comes on the show to sit down a second time for a backstage interview. These sometimes take the form of 5-Haiku Interviews, where questions are asked and answered (wait for it)… in haiku form.
Sometimes, such requests are for musical performers instead of interviewed guests. For instance, the bloggers are all fans of The Avett Brothers, so a month ahead of the band’s scheduled performance, Cavin and Co. asked the music booker for help securing a backstage video. The band happily agreed.
As for interactivity efforts, Late Night is way ahead of the game. Every week Jimmy Fallon starts a hashtag on Twitter (many of which end up trending nationwide) and the bloggers cull together the best fan submissions to be read on air, with a host of honorable mentions posting on the Hashtags section of the site. Fans of the show are also encouraged to tweet questions for the guests, giving them the chance to interact directly in the backstage interviews. "We kind of get to know some of the Twitter followers pretty well after a while," Cavin says. "You see them tweet the question, the guest might answer it, and then the fan will tweet about the guest having answered it. It’s kind of cool to see the full-circle interaction of fans and guests."
Of all the interactive initiatives and additional content, however, the backstage tour is perhaps the most innovative example the team has produced yet. Of course, the fans aren’t the only ones who’ve enjoyed it. "There was something I wanted to do for a long time which was make a video following Jimmy as he made his way through the hallways to the stage to do the monologue," says Cavin. "The final shot of the backstage tour is Jimmy walking onstage, and it was exactly the video I wanted to shoot this whole time."