Some Minnesota lawmakers are threatening to cut a taxpayer-funded rebate program designed to create new film production jobs in the state after learning that Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” received $266,834 in refunds.
Fallon and his NBC crew took the show on the road in February 2018 to shoot at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, the host city for the Super Bowl that year.
Internal documents obtained this week by MPR News show that the program received $266,834 in rebates through the Minnesota Film and TV Board’s Snowbate program. Some think these documents show that the state bent the rules in order to cut Fallon a check.
Under Minnesota law, talk shows are not eligible for Snowbate funds, so state officials classified the “Tonight Show” as a “variety show” instead.
“Once we determined it was a variety show and not a talk show, then, no, we would have had no reason to reject the application,” Melodie Bahan, executive director of the Minnesota Film and TV Board, told MPR News in a recent interview.
Emails obtained through a public records request show that other members of the board pushed back on the decision.
“They are coming here anyway because of the event, no further incentive needed,” Michelle Caron, a member of the Snowbate Operations Committee, wrote in an email. “All that said, the statute is clear and we can’t allow this without legislative change.”
There were a number of arguments floated against providing a rebate to the “Tonight Show.” The Snowbate program had already seen legislative cuts and was operating on a tight budget, the “Tonight Show” didn’t need any further incentive to shoot in Minnesota and would bring its production here no matter what, and writing NBC a check would prevent other projects from receiving funds.
Michael Tabor, a current member of the Minnesota Film and TV Board, had the foresight to predict that “the optics of this might undermine our attempts to argue to the Legislature for reinstating Snowbate at its previous levels.”
“In this instance, however, it is unlikely that the Jimmy Fallon show would choose to relocate to Minnesota, no matter how great their experience is. The bottom line is that they are coming to Minnesota to be here during the Super Bowl, and some enterprising producer said, ‘Hey, do they have an incentive program?’” Tabor wrote in an email to his colleagues.
“To simply give away funds to a large company that would shoot here regardless, with almost no hope for return isn’t responsible on our part, especially when the statute is clear,” he added.
- $162,000 in pay for host Jimmy Fallon
- $380,000 in lodging for staff
- $320,000 for in-state production personnel
- $275,000 to rent the Orpheum
- $139 for Justin Timberlake’s dinner and $45 for his vitamin water
In response, some state legislators are threatening to reduce funding for the Snowbate program.
“This is frustrating! Taxpayers funded the ‘Tonight Show’ appearance during the Super Bowl despite the fact that they would’ve done the show regardless. Funds even went to pay for Justin Timberlake’s vitamin water. We cut this program by 67 percent in 2017. Looks like that was not enough,” said State Rep. Nolan West (R-Blaine).
The Minnesota House Republican Caucus had similar thoughts.
“More of your hard-earned tax dollars going to Hollywood celebrities. Just a few weeks after we learned about Democrat celebrity Andrew Zimmern being paid to tweet, we find out that taxpayers helped pay for Jimmy Fallon’s trip to Minnesota—and that the state bent the rules to make it happen,” The House Republican Caucus wrote on Facebook.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Jimmy Fallon” by The Tonight Show.