Live, from BU
It’s a season wrap for BU Tonight
The BU Tonight logo is the first thing that appears on screen. Cut to the stage, as the lights go up and the intro music fades. Greg Huntoon, dressed in a sweater vest and khakis, reads from the teleprompter and tries hard to sound relaxed.
“Larry King, defying all laws of physics and biological studies, slept with his wife’s younger sister. Mathematicians have estimated that the age difference between the two is something between 46 and WHAT!?”
The joke gets exactly two laughs, both from the cameramen, who are also the audience and the laugh track.
“How was the delivery? Was the delivery good?” asks Huntoon (CAS’11), interrupting his monologue to look for suggestions from the crew in the control room. On this Saturday, like many other long Saturdays, the cast and crew of BU Tonight are prepared to spend hours in the studio at the College of Communication.
“All the audience sees is 30 minutes, but those 30 minutes can mean 4 hours of filming,” says Julian Jensen (COM’12), the director of BU Tonight. “That includes setup, teardown, the monologue, skits, and bands. We do it all in one day, minus the skits.”
The Saturday Night Live-esque BU Tonight films live-to-tape and mixes a monologue, sketches, and music to create half-hour shows that are aired on BUTV10, BU’s television station, and can be seen via campus channel 10 or on demand on the BUTV Web site. Students film approximately four shows each semester.
“We definitely had a learning curve,” says O’Reilly. “Our first episodes were just atrocious, and we had no idea what we were doing. Eventually we got better at the production and writing jokes. It was more work than anything I had done before that. A few of us lived together in Myles, and literally all of our conversations were about the show. It was just that hard to get away from.”
The show’s alums, like O’Reilly, have gone on to become professional stand-up comedians. Former host Christian Lynch (COM’07) and producer Jeff Greco (COM’08) worked with O’Brien on The Tonight Show before it went off the air.
“It taught me a lot,” says Greco. “I was a journalism student when I started working on it, and through the process I decided I wanted to switch my major to film and TV. I got my job with Conan as a result of working on BU Tonight, just the experience and the clips.”
The show made a name for itself by booking guest appearances by celebrities such as stand-up comics Dave Coulier and Pauly Shore, the band Hanson, and Mike Eruzione (SED’77), captain of the legendary “Miracle on Ice” U.S. hockey team that beat the Russians and went on to take home the gold in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid.
Greco’s favorite memory is when Shore appeared as the guest. “I met him and his wrangler, and we tried to get Shore into the studio,” he says. “He kept wandering off, hugging every girl he saw, and sneaking into classes. He even got in front of one class and taught for 20 minutes. I think it was in the Boston Herald the next day.”
Over the years, the program’s format has morphed, moving away from a talk show format and including more sketch comedy. Jon Vail (SMG’10), the show’s current producer, says that booking guests was one of the problems that delayed production time. “We tried to get these great guests,” says Vail, “but the material that the students made should be the thing that attracts people.”
A team of writers, who audition by submitting sketches, collaborates on original monologues and sketches for each episode. “We ask them to submit anything they want,” says Vail. “You can teach people to write a sketch, but you can’t teach people to be funny.”
On this Saturday, some jokes aren’t even finished, and many change as the day goes on. Sometimes the host or actors will talk through a joke and try different setups, judging its success by the laughs it gets.
The monologues and the musical performances are filmed in the studio. Bands are found from contacts at WTBU and the Quad, BU’s independent online magazine.
As illustrated recently in the late-night battle between O’Brien and Jay Leno, the success of most shows relies heavily on the host. “I can make the decisions, but the host is the face that represents the show,” Vail says. “It’s really someone who has faith in the show and the people he works with.”
“There’s nothing like hosting,” Huntoon says. “You really see how much work goes into making a TV show. I have a newfound respect for TV guys.”
Jensen, who joined BU Tonight as a freshman, says that it’s a great place to practice the skills he learns in his film classes. “I’m more of a production guy,” he says. “It’s lots of work, and you get to do lots of things. The show isn’t going out to a network like ABC; it’s by students for students.”
Students can be involved any way they want — operating a camera or the teleprompter or even acting in a sketch. “Younger students learn by being on set and being trained by the people who have been here,” explains Vail.
“I can try camera, sound, or directing,” says Eric Baker (COM’13). “You can really do whatever you want. The commitment is only 5 to 10 hours a month.”
Lindsay Riordan (COM’12) recently tried operating the teleprompter for the first time. “I acted in a sketch a few weeks ago, and I like doing the teleprompter,” she says. “And I’m trying to learn more.”
“I’ve learned more here than in a real class, like the nervousness of filming and the real-life pressure,” Jensen says. “You can try anything. The host changes frequently. The show gets handed down from year to year, and it’s hard to keep strong. I love doing it. What else would you want to be doing on a Saturday afternoon?”