Katie Hockmeyer discusses how she started as an intern at NBC and her journey to Showrunner on Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Her first memory of watching late night TV was the famous Johnny Carson show finale where he sang with Bette Midler. Katie Hockmeyer always loved comedy and she always loved Saturday Night Live. She wound up on NBC’s Page Programme and was soon interning on the show. A few years later, she was working with Jeff Zucker who would become CEO of NBC and she’d travel the world with him. By 2009, she was working on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and has been there ever since.
Katie Hockmeyer brought a fresh energy to late night and with things like Egg Russian Roulette, Lip Sync, or having a ride at Universal Studios, the show is funny and hilarious and always seems to be one step ahead of others. I caught up with Hockmeyer to talk about how she started her career to working with Jeff Zucker and her journey to the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
What do you remember about late-night TV?
I’d have to say, my first late night memory was watching Johnny Carson’s last show singing with Bette Midler.
What a flashback.
What was it that made you want to go into late night TV?
I always loved comedy. I grew up watching SNL. I was a huge fan of that. In college, I remember watching Conan O’Brien every night. I loved comedians and going to bed having had a good laugh. I figured what better place to work than in the comedic environment and that’s how I pursued that career.
How did you get into TV?
I did a bunch of internships at NBC when I was in college. After I graduated, I was in the NBC Page Program which really helped build the foundation to get where I am. I was the Saturday Night Desk page. I was answering phones, picking up food, and helping cleaning out dressing rooms and seeing how the show was being put together from Thursday through to Saturday and that really peaked my interest. I was dying to work at Saturday Night Live after that. I loved it and I loved everything about that.
You were based at 30 Rockefeller Plaza working with Jeff Zucker and what you learned from him and the steps into Jimmy Fallon.
Jeff was an incredible boss. After I worked at Saturday Night Live for a few years, I was an assistant and I worked with him for about four years and he became the CEO during that time. I got to travel the world. I got to go to the Beijing Olympics. I went to California and D.C and we went to New Orleans. It was incredible and I got my Masters in the company portfolio. I got to learn about the theme parks and how those operate. I got to learn about the Sports Division and saw them do the Summer Olympics. We’d go to tapings of other shows like Will & Grace and Saturday Night Live. He took me everywhere and I learned so much and I’m incredibly grateful for it.
Here we are, you’re the showrunner at Jimmy Fallon. Talk about what you wanted to bring to the show.
In all honesty, never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be the showrunner. I feel like I always dreamed of it. I will circle back and say when I worked for Jeff Zucker I answered his phone and Debbie Vickers who was the executive producer of Jay Leno would be on the other end. Jeff had a good relationship with her so every time we came to Burbank we would see her. I always thought to myself she was the coolest. I thought she was so smart and I thought I’d want to be the showrunner. She was a genius and had that show running like a well-oiled machine and she was someone who made an incredible impression on me when I was in my twenties. Sometimes when I think about it, I still can’t believe it. That was my first experience around it.
I knew after working for Jeff for four years I felt I’d learned as much as I could and I was ready to move on from being an assistant. I knew in 2009 that Jimmy Fallon was getting the Late Night host and I basically pitched myself to work on the show. In 2008, I went to an SNL afterparty and I said, “Please consider me. I will literally do anything.”
They were telling me they wanted to hire people who had never worked on a late night show. We want everyone to come together and be a team and I have been there since day one. My responsibilities have changed over the years, but I’ve loved every minute of it.
What approach do you take to the show and how does that challenge you?
We take every single day as a new opportunity. How do we best showcase Jimmy and the guests that we’re having on. We find our way to talk about what’s topical and what’s going on in the world. Honestly, we put on an amazing variety show. We make people feel entertained. Whether he’s singing, dancing, doing an impersonation, telling a joke, people can watch the show and see everything. There is nothing that man can’t do.
I loved seeing Cardi B co-host the show the other month.
Wasn’t that so much fun?
It was incredible. Everyone now knows who she is.
It was right before Christmas. We were the only late night show on and everyone else was dark. We decided to book her as a guest and Jimmy was a huge fan. We had no idea how much chemistry they’d have on air together, but it was hilarious to watch them interact. The interview blew up and we loved having her on. We thought about how much fun it would be to have her come back and co-host. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Jimmy and Cardi-B interact for the whole episode? After Christmas, we talked about it and figured out a date that would work for her and it was a total home run.
It was crazy explosive fun.
She’s naturally funny and he’s really good at playing off of that.
This has to be a regular thing now.
Oh yeah. I think it might be the first time someone has co-hosted. It was a big deal for her and for him.
It’s great speaking to female showrunners, what’s been the great thing about working on Fallon for you?
One of the reasons I’m still there is because I love the staff so much. We’ve been there for nine years. I started the show and I was single and now I’m married on my way to having my third kid so we all grew up together. We experienced these professional milestones, but also these personal milestones together and we’ve celebrated both.
In 2009, when we first started, Jimmy had this idea to pitch the theme parks a ride. He wanted to do a late night Jimmy Fallon ride and since I had just worked for Jeff, I knew people at the parks. I set up a pitch meeting and put together this meeting. We pitched Mark Woodbury this whole big thing and he politely declined and said,
“Thank you so much, but I don’t think there’s room at the park.” Four years later, they gave us a callback and said, “Remember when you had that idea for a ride, would you like to come back and make a Tonight Show Experience.” We were like, “Are you serious?” To be able to be there from day one in 2009 when it was a long shot and just a dream and then circling back in 2014 saying, “Let’s do it.” I worked on it for about three years and then to experience the ride, that was an incredible experience to be a part of. That’s something the whole team is proud of because you feel like you’re in the studio on that ride.
What new thing can you possibly come up with? You’ve done the ride, the co-hosting.
Oh my gosh. You never know. A lot of it is just organic. Whatever we start to get excited about, I have two showrunners who work on the creative side Mike DiCenzo and Gerard Bradford, they’ll come together with Jimmy and our head writer Amy Ozuls and we’ll brainstorm what else can we do that’s different and fun and will connect with the audience?
We’re already brainstorming some events for September. We’re always brainstorming cities.
We recreated King of Wishful Thinking which was a lot of fun. He loves old school music videos so we love recreating that stuff. He loves music and he tries to incorporate music in all different ways on the show. Whether we’re doing classroom instruments, we’ll do musical impressions with different celebrities. He likes to have fun and it works well.
He needs to recreate Hotel California.
Yes. Give us ideas, we love it.
The show has not been to London, right?
The show has not, but I will say, Jimmy will go every year for one week with Lauren and they’ll go and experience theater.
I’m just saying it because I’m a Brit.
Honestly, I’d love to do something from Hyde Park.