There was no doubt in Jimmy Fallon’s mind how he wanted to open the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards, right down to the iconic Bruce Springsteen song, “Born to Run,” that would serve as a soundtrack to the most ambitious “Glee” parody he’d ever done.
Fallon, who hosted Sunday night’s show for the first time, has repeatedly spoofed the popular Fox series on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” But for the Emmy telecast, he wanted to assemble some friends and fellow Gleeks like Tina Fey, Jon Hamm and Randy Jackson for a six-minute filmed skit with live singing and dancing that he thought would start the program with a bang.
“He had the whole thing conceived in his head,” said Don Mischer, Emmy executive producer. “But usually if you’re doing any pre-taped segments, you like to have those in the can five or six days before the show. In this case, we didn’t have it until the morning of the Emmys. What would we have done if it didn’t work?”
Everyone involved — though that number was intentionally small to keep the skit hush-hush — became confident through the weekend’s filming that it would be a talked-about opener, Mischer said. Not only did it achieve that, TV critics and industry analysts have said, it established Fallon’s bona fides as a prime-time showman. (Fallon was unavailable for comment Monday because he was flying to New York.)
Fallon, who has costarred in films opposite Drew Barrymore and Queen Latifah and on “Saturday Night Live,” might not be a household name to some prime-time network watchers. “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” drew about 1.7 million viewers during this year’s May sweeps. The Emmy Awards, by contrast, pulled in 13.5 million people.
His inexperience didn’t surface much, industry analysts said, with his live “SNL” background coming in handy.
“He brought a real sense of excitement to the show,” said David Scardino, entertainment specialist at ad agency RPA. “And there were a lot more eyeballs than he usually gets on ‘Late Night.’ ”
The opening skit, for those who haven’t watched or re-watched it on YouTube yet, had Fallon tapping a handful of “Glee” cast members and Fey, Jackson, Hamm, Joel McHale, Jorge Garcia, Nina Dobrev, Kate Gosselin, Randy Jackson and Betty White for an “impromptu” rendition of the Boss’ classic track.
Choreographer and Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin plotted the dance steps that the stars would perform, with “Late Night” executive producer Mike Shoemaker and his writing team overseeing everything else. (Mischer, who’d worked with Springsteen on a Super Bowl halftime show, personally asked the rocker for permission to use “Born to Run.”)
The stunt took an average 14 hours’ commitment from each participant, Mischer said, at a time when they might rather have been getting manicures or writing acceptance speeches. (“Glee” costar Jane Lynch, who showered Fallon and Fey with slushees during the skit, won an Emmy for supporting actress in a comedy.) And there was little margin for error.
“Some stars might’ve felt like this was taking too big a chance on a very big stage,” Mischer said. “But everybody understood that we wouldn’t be taking ourselves too seriously.”
That included a poke at Gosselin and her less-than-stellar turn on " Dancing With the Stars.”
“I was more than happy once again to laugh at myself and give the world another laugh at my lack of dancing skills,” Gosselin said via e-mail. “But this time I thought, ‘What a huge honor to be part of the Emmys opening act. I’m going to learn it, enjoy it and rock it!’ ”
White, who seems to be everywhere these days because, well, she is, said she was inclined to participate when Fallon and Fey invited her. Then she got the details.
“I was told I’d be playing Jon Hamm’s dance teacher, and that struck me as funny,” she said. “Come to find out, he moves very well.”
Dobrev, one of the stars of the CW drama “Vampire Diaries,” had been on Fallon’s chat show a few months ago and hit it off with the host, which she thinks led to her invitation to be part of the Emmy skit. She also graduated from a performing arts high school herself, which came in handy for dance moves with Hamm.
“I read the script and thought it was hilarious — I jumped at the opportunity,” said Dobrev, who was back on the “Vampire Diaries” set in Atlanta on Monday. “It seemed like such a random group of people thrown together, but that made it so much funnier.”
Dobrev, for one, thought the skit reverberated well beyond the first minutes of the show for Fallon. “I think a lot of people were pleasantly surprised and impressed with his range, his vocal ability, his openness — he’s so cool and energetic,” she said. “People got to see what a great performer he is.”
White, who’s seen several decades’ worth of award shows up close, said Fallon succeeded because he didn’t try too hard.
“He was just being himself, and he’s such a nice guy,” she said. “And he’s so musically inclined. It all really worked for him.”