"Well, it's official, you heard it here first, we're moving the show to Minneapolis," joked Fallon in his opening monologue. "That's right, hold on to your tater tots."
It was an advertising score for the state the night the Super Bowl was played a few blocks away. But local attention was not free.
"The Tonight Show" told the state that it spent more than $ 3 million to get the show on the road, including Fallon's six-figure check for the episode. But records indicate that he also recovered almost $ 267,000 through a Minnesota government reimbursement program amid questions about his eligibility.
Melodie Bahan is executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board, a nonprofit that needs state approval to issue rebate checks. She said the program was one of the largest budget projects in her couple of years at the helm.
"Every time a show arrives that will hire more than 100 people, local people, and pay them really good salaries, it's a victory," Bahan said.
Minnesota spends millions of dollars from taxpayers through the state Snowbate program. It is aimed at attracting productions and fostering the talent of the local industry.
But this was not an ordinary project. There was consternation within the board of the film, and later in the higher ranks of a state agency, about providing the subsidy. There was a debate over whether Fallon would have done the walk independently, given that NBC had the coveted Super Bowl rights that year.
Talk vs. variety
At first glance, the movie board staff told the Fallon team that their "talk show" would not qualify under a clearly written section of Minnesota law. But that changed after the highly rated evening program was finally classified as a "variety program" that would conform to the limits of state law.
And with that, Bahan said, there was no legal basis for retaining the money available.
"Once we determined that it was a variety program and not a talk show, then, no, we would have no reason to reject the application," Bahan said in a recent interview.
The officials reached that conclusion after a considerable exchange of information, according to emails and other documents obtained through a request for public records.
The film board learned for the first time that "The Tonight Show" would arrive in Minneapolis in November 2017. A message returned to the producers of the series that the talk shows are excluded from the discounts.
In a matter of hours, there was a movement to alter that determination. The NBC Universal team got in touch by phone with Bahan, who decided to get advice from the volunteer Snowbate Operations Committee. The advisory panel was asked to weigh within 24 hours. That set off a wave of opinions.
"They're going to come here anyway because of the event, no more incentives are needed," wrote Michelle Caron, a long-time industry consultant. He questioned whether the project would approve an audit and concluded: "the statute is clear and we can not allow it without a legislative change".
Salary of $ 162,000
Bahan said he consulted and received approval from an official from the Department of Employment and Economic Development and some lawmakers before going to the board designated for approval.
The Republicans who at that time presided over the legislative committees that control Snowbate's budget, Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington and Senator Jeremy Miller of Winona, both told MPR News that they do not remember being contacted.
"I'm pretty sure I would have remembered it," Miller said.
Then-Rep. Kelly Fenton, a Woodbury Republican who sponsored the film board's incentive legislation, said board officials told her that "The Tonight Show" was coming, but did not indicate that the state's money was attached.
"I do not remember ever being asked:" Do you approve of this? "Because those are not the decisions that legislators make," said Fenton.
A spokesperson for DEED said there were internal discussions about the eligibility of the program, but a request for records specific to that agency showed little documentation.
Bahan urged the executive committee of its board of directors to approve the subsidy despite acknowledging that the advisory committee leaned toward rejection of the certification. Bahan wrote in an email that while "The Tonight Show" is not part of the long game, a continuing relationship with NBC / Comcast is. "
One week before Christmas 2017, NBC learned that the program scheduled for the following February was certified.
As part of the agreement, only certain expenses were eligible for a 25% refund. The documents show that NBC had more than $ 1 million in qualifying positions, which resulted in the $ 266,834.50 check delivered last July. That's more than half of what the Legislature assigned to the Snowbate program in that fiscal year.
The program had to submit detailed records to support its expenses.
Included in the list of expenses were the $ 162,000 that NBC Universal paid Fallon for his work on the Super Bowl Sunday program. Accommodation for the fair staff amounted to $ 380,000 of its costs, more than $ 320,000 went to the state production staff and $ 275,000 was paid to rent the Orpheum Theater for several days.
Also in the mix were plenty of food tokens, which included a $ 139.50 dinner for musician Justin Timberlake and $ 45 for water with vitamins for the pop star, who also performed during the Super Bowl's part-time show . (An alcohol token attributed to Timberlake was much higher, but alcohol is not eligible for reimbursement).
This story originally appeared at: https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/07/11/taxpayers-helped-fund-tonight-show-super-bowl-broadcast-minnesota