Exclusive: Jimmy Kimmel Live Producer on Their Harrowing Week in Brooklyn
Jimmy Kimmel has already braved Oprah, the White House Correspondents Dinner and the Emmy Awards this year — so why not cap it off with a hurricane in New York? Of all the weeks to be broadcasting live from New York City, Jimmy Kimmel Live happened to be in Brooklyn for a week of shows when Hurricane Sandy hit.
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The superstorm forced Kimmel to cancel Monday's show, but by Tuesday JKL was up and running from Brooklyn's BAM Harvey Theater. And on Wednesday, Kimmel checked off a major entry on his bucket list: David Letterman, the host's boyhood idol, visited the show for the first time as a guest. It's been quite a week, but amid the chaos, Jimmy Kimmel Live executive producer Jill Leiderman spoke with TV Guide Magazine about how the show weathered the hurricane and braced for Letterman.
TV Guide Magazine: This has probably been quite a challenging week for you. Has it been on one hand, the worst week ever to be doing a show there on location, but on the other hand, perhaps the best?
Leiderman: It has been incredibly challenging for our staff and crew and Jimmy, but at the same time absolutely exhilarating. The confluence of elements this week was like nothing we could have ever imagined. We planned for a year to come to Brooklyn, and never in our contingency plans did we ever make any accommodations for a hurricane. We just never, ever had that on our list of to do items that we needed to address. We tried to think of everything that we could ever imagine happening, and that certainly was not one of them. It feels like we're all in this together, creating this unbelievable experience of a week of shows that we knew would be special, but we never could have anticipated just how special it would be to bring these shows to Brooklyn and entertain people who absolutely, in addition to many other things that they need this week, are in desperate need of some comic relief.
TV Guide Magazine: How did the show prepare for, and weather, the storm?
Leiderman: We have brought all of our technical equipment here; we are set up on Ashland Place with trailers that have millions of dollars of equipment in them, state-of-the-art equipment, in order to deliver the show. We had to tether the trailers that have all that equipment down with sandbags, and we boarded up the windows in preparation. The doors to the theater had thousands of feet of cable coming into the building, and we needed to make sure that water wouldn't get in underneath the doors to the building, so we had to sandbag up the entire side of the building to make sure it would remain intact. Everyone came in over the weekend to get ready. We were able to get into the BAM Harvey theater, they were loading out a show that already had a run here at the BAM, and we started at 10 p.m. on Saturday, our crew worked round the clock to be able to be ready for a 7 p.m. taping on Monday night. But it became very clear by 2 p.m. on Monday that everyone needed to evacuate the building and we needed to take necessary steps to keep everything as safe as possible. But brace ourselves for what possibly could be coming. And so our crew was phenomenal, they kicked into high gear, and they got the whole tech load in of the equipment that we needed: the set pieces, bandstand, everything was done within 36 hours. We were under pressure to get everything done in time anyway and then the added element of wanting to be able to close the door here at BAM and be able to go away in the hopes that we'd be able to come back the next day and hopefully be able to put on the show was a harrowing experience. It was scary, but thank goodness everyone is healthy and safe and we feel very blessed that everyone was able to come back the next morning. Everything that we had left the day before, the trailers, were all intact. Thank goodness everything was OK and we were able to put on a show.
TV Guide Magazine: What was it like during the height of the storm?
Leiderman: There was definitely a bunker mentality. A lot of people are buddying up and sleeping in rooms with other folks, because a lot of the people who are actually local here to New York weren't able to go home. Some of them have been sleeping and showering here at the BAM. Everyone is bonding together through the storm, and then on top of that you have local Brooklynites who are ecstatic to have a show specifically geared toward them. The energy that's been coursing through these shows on a nightly basis is electric. There's 665 people in the audience who, amid whatever their circumstances, have found a way to get to our theater, by foot, by car, by bus, whatever way they can get here, in order to be entertained for an hour. We've been planning this for a year and it is such a heartfelt endeavor to see it all come to fruition amid the chaos.
TV Guide Magazine: Talk about the decision not to do a show on Monday.
Leiderman: It was really important to Jimmy to make sure that the safety of our staff, crew and audience was foremost. And it was quite clear that we just couldn't put people in jeopardy. We have been sold out for these shows for such a long time and we actually had to turn a lot of people away, so our audience coordinator did a phenomenal job as soon as we got the all clear.
TV Guide Magazine: What did we miss on Monday?
Leiderman: Monday was supposed to be Chris Rock, Kelly Ripa and Alicia Keys, so Alicia Keys has moved from Monday to Friday.
TV Guide Magazine: Did you have any trouble in making sure your guests could still make it?
Leiderman: Even though bridges and tunnels were closed, we were very lucky that the bridges opened in time and Howard Stern and Tracy Morgan were generous enough to get in cars and come to the show, while Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings were luckily already in Brooklyn, ready to go. We were able to cobble together a show that night, and it was really exciting. There's such a spirit of camaraderie. Everybody is chipping in to do whatever is necessary to get the show on the air with whatever means they have.
TV Guide Magazine: How many people made the trip? This was already an adventure for the show's staff and crew. I imagine the storm just made it more so.
Leiderman: We brought 190 people. Jimmy was here until the age of 9 and has tremendously fond memories of the city, but to then come back, and on top of it have all Jimmy's friends and family here, an entire community of people who are rallying together amid the chaos of the storm, there has been an additional layer of heartfelt camaraderie that has made our show even more special.
TV Guide Magazine: Luckily, you had already pre-taped several segments.
Leiderman: Yes, we came earlier this summer and knocked out a few pieces in the field. Jimmy and our writers and production folk came out and shot a few bits here at Jimmy's elementary school, as well as giving [sidekick] Guillermo an entire tour of Brooklyn, all the hotspots including the town house he grew up in, as well as reuniting with one of his childhood bullies.
TV Guide Magazine: What was it like to have Jimmy's idol, David Letterman, walk on your stage?
Leiderman: Jimmy's obsession with Dave, from the time he was a kid watching on a black and white TV underneath the sheets, has been indelibly marked in him forever. The opportunity to invite Dave and then potentially have him say "yes" was something that Jimmy and I were dreaming about for a very long time. We knew that if we were ever able to have the opportunity to have Dave do the show we would need to be on the Eastern seaboard. Coming to Brooklyn meant we at least had a shot at having the King of Late Night on our show. We delicately asked him if he would participate, and he was incredible to say yes. The experience is one that Jimmy and I and our staff and crew were incredibly moved by. He so rarely makes appearances and we were honored to have his participation, particularly amid the circumstances. Initially he was supposed to take the subway to us, which would have been a much easier trip. But unfortunately he needed to be stuck in a car. So he was extraordinarily gracious and a gentleman to honor his commitment to come be with us. It was historic for us. Truly.
TV Guide Magazine: You could tell on camera how much Dave being there meant to Jimmy.
Leiderman: It was validation of the work we're doing here and that he trusts us enough to come. It was truly the focus of the whole week. We'd all been anticipating it, wanting to make sure that it went perfectly. Jimmy has come on Dave's show eight times, and each time Dave has been impressed by the amount of work that Jimmy puts into each appearance. He wanted to reciprocate in kind by being a good guest on our show. That made the experience even more special, knowing that Dave was invested in being a good guest for Jimmy. Which is surreal, knowing that Jimmy and my sensibility was completely shaped by Dave's comedy.
TV Guide Magazine: What was he like off camera? Did he come by himself, talk to anyone?
Leiderman: I worked with him for nine years and I learned everything I know about late night television from working with him and near him. So I know his security guard and his assistant and his publicist and they were all vested in making sure that this experience was great. For me it was, my life coming full circle, and for Jimmy it was the opportunity to have his idol sitting next to him in his chair at his desk. Dave was so gracious to give him the opportunity to ask him any question that he wanted to ask him. Nothing was off limits. Jimmy got the opportunity to ask him the things that he's been so curious about. It was so heartwarming for me. I sat in the booth as I watched the two of them sitting next to each other, and I'm not going to lie to you, I cried at the end of the segment. I know how much it means to Jimmy, I know how much it means to our staff, I know how much it means to our crew and me personally.
TV Guide Magazine: Obviously the upcoming move to 11:35/10:35c is the next big thing for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Have you had a chance to think about it yet?
Leiderman: Let's all get home safely to Los Angeles from Brooklyn first. One step at a time.
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