Super Bowl weekend had its ups & downs but it ended on a high note. A special Sunday Night, Super Bowl edition of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was broadcast live from Phoenix’s historic Orpheum Theatre. Harper’s Keeper was ushering. And, unlike the NFL Honors Ceremony, the volunteers didn’t miss a minute of it!
As an ushering shift it was easier than most. NBC was using the theater as a studio. They were not treating the broadcast like a concert or theater event so everything was streamlined. There were no bars or concessions open. No one was selling T-shirts or other souvenirs. In fact, there were not even patrons chatting in the lobby before or after the show. The tickets were for assigned seats so there was no hoard at the door poised to claw past each other to the best seats.
This event had been much-anticipated (and not just by the ushers). The Tonight Show received requests for 42,000 tickets. The 1000 tickets available disappeared in less than 4 minutes. Ticket holders waited outside on the sidewalk. There was a queue of people with standby tickets hoping for some no-shows. When the broadcast team was ready, they opened the outside doors and the house doors at the same time. People moved directly from the sidewalk to their seats.
Doors opened about 8:40. There were rules for the audience which were clear-cut, non-negotiable, and strictly enforced.
- Patrons had about 20 minutes to get to their seats. If people wanted to use the restrooms they were asked to do so immediately and quickly.
- The doors would be closed at 9:00 PM and any patrons not in the theatre would not be admitted.
- Once the doors closed anyone in the theatre who left would not be readmitted.
- No food or drinks were permitted, not even bottled water.
- As people entered they were asked to turn off their electronic devices. No photography or recording of any kind was allowed. If Security saw a glowing screen in someone’s hand that person would be escorted out of the theater, and out of the building once any photos or recordings had been deleted from their device.
Between 9:00 and 9:30 the production team identified any empty seats and filled them with standby ticket holders.
The entertainment started about 9:00 with comedy videos. The energy kept ramping up through Seth Herzog’s warm-up and music from Questlove and The Roots. At some point, the stage manager explained some hand signals she would be using to let the audience know when to applaud, when to quiet down, and when to go stand-up crazy. Announcer Steve Higgins came out a few minutes before airtime to say hello and take his position at the podium. We first saw Fallon when he was introduced at the beginning of the broadcast. The live broadcast started about 10:15, delayed by the Super Bowl coverage.
The program was terrific. Because it was a special event there were some surprises. Fallon showed a pre-recorded video of himself and The Roots singing Queen’s “We Are the Champions” with special guests that included Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, and the boy-band, One Direction.
Arnold Schwarzenegger came out dressed as The Terminator just to say; “We’ll be baaack” before the first commercial break. Drew Barrymore turned up to help Fallon in the lip sync contest between himself and guests Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell. Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and LeGarrette Blount from the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots come out to accept the applause of the crowd, many of whom, like Ferrell, were wearing Sea Hawks gear. During the penultimate commercial break the stage was completely transformed for the musical performance of Ariana Grande.
After broadcast ended, the audience was asked to remain seated briefly so they could be released by section. After leaving he house audience members were steered directly out the nearest exit. A few who wished to use the rest room before leaving were informed the rest rooms were closed. On the plaza outside the Orpheum reporters from the local television affiliates interviewed audience members about the show.
Because of the delay, I got out about 11:35. I’d missed the last Light Rail run so I had about a 20 minute walk to my car but I’m sure I was smiling all the way. It was a fun night that I will remember for a long time. And it more than made up for the boredom of the previous evening at the NFL Honors Ceremony.