Late Nite Rocks

9:03 pm Feature Stories

Late Night Rocks
By Dawn Shurmaitis

The setting is a small TV studio in New York City framed by lush velvet curtains and fronted by a cheering crowd of about 200 invitees. On stage is a virtual Who’s Who of American pop, rock and rap: David Sanborn, Joan Osborne, Lou Reed, Boz Scaggs, Dr. John, Isaac Hayes and Naughty by Nature. The occasion is a taping for a 90-minute Late Night special.

Late Night Productions – located at ABC in New York – is responsible for concert specials as well as the long-popular “ABC In Concert.” Since its debut in 1991, the current incarnation of “In Concert” has delivered music to the masses in a unique, after-hours program featuring everyone from Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead to Hanson and Rage Against the Machine.

Five times a year, Late Night also offers 90-minute music extravaganzas like the June 6 “Sounds of Summer Preview ‘98” that highlights all the major artists criss-crossing the country this summer. Occasionally, ABC also offers super-special shows, such as the David Sanborn New Year’s Eve bash, which aired right after Dick Clark ushered in 1998 from Times Square. “It was an amazing array of tastes and ideas,” says executive producer David Saltz.

The formula is simple: artists appear on stage in front of an enthusiastic audience as the cameras roll. For music fans, ABC’s concert broadcasts are the next best thing to being there. “In Concert” annually airs about 40 original, half-hour concerts filmed on location around the world: Beck in England. U2 in Holland. The Rolling Stones in Chicago. Artists and bands aren’t appearing for big pay checks. Their real payback comes from the exposure of appearing on a network program that attracts upwards of 1.4 million viewers, roughly three times the number tuning in to MTV during any 24-hour period “For most artists, it’s the biggest gig of their career, because it’s seen by the most people,” Saltz says. “It helps music companies sell albums and artists sell concert tickets.”

“In Concert” is produced by Late Night Productions, Inc. in association with ABC Late Night Entertainment. Saltz likes to think of the programs as the conduit between music and the network, which doesn’t have any other variety entertainment vehicle for showcasing today’s musicians. Cross-promotion isn’t uncommon. To stir up a buzz about the recent Hanson concert, Late Night “borrowed” the Mrs. Munger cartoon from ABC’s Saturday Morning. The normally staid teacher, wearing tie dye, acted as a guest host. After quizzing the class on Hanson trivia, Mrs. Munger warned “this is a classroom, not a mosh pit!”

“It’s fun to do those kinds of things,” says Saltz, a music business insider who counts U2 band members as buddies.

Music often plays an integral part in television. Think of how many theme songs you can still remember from sitcoms of old. Saltz hopes to work further with entertainment chiefs Stu Bloomberg and Jamie Tarses developing specific musical elements for ABC programs. Last year, for instance, he was instrumental in getting Phil Collins to create some music for “NYPD Blue” promotions. Chris Isaak did the same for “General Hospital.” Both Collins and Isaak had previously appeared on “In Concert.” Saltz also worked as a music consultant to the marketing department. Recently, “In Concert” signed a deal with Walt Disney Television International to deliver programs to worldwide markets.

“What’s really great about ABC right now is it’s so much new energy. It’s a young company, open to unique an different ideas,” Saltz says. “Any music that can get on TV that’s viable and high quality, I’m all for it.”

Advertising demographics depend on the entertainer. Elton John and Eric Clapton attract 30- and 40-year-olds while Rage Against the Machine and Mighty Mighty Bosstones draw teens and twentysomethings. The real challenge is keeping viewers awake into the wee hours. Unlike primetime television, “In Concert” isn’t concerned solely with competing programming. “We’re not fighting just against what else is on, we’re fighting against people falling asleep,” Saltz says of programming that typically airs at 1:30 a.m. ET.

The current “In Concert” premiered seven years ago. But ABC has been showcasing the program since the 1970s. “When I was in high school, before MTV, there was ‘ABC In Concert’ with bands like the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Bachman Turner Overdrive and Queen,” Saltz recalls. “All the concerts were filmed at different locations, similar to the way we produce the program today.”













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