Miami production leads Wollett to the ‘The Tonight Show’

  • By Tori Levy
  • CAS Intern
Chad Wollett

Chad Wollett

When Chad Wollett enrolled at Miami in 1998, he already had a fair amount of production experience. He produced his high school’s morning announcements telecast and had a passion for making television.

This only accelerated when he stepped on campus.

Wollett took Bob Vogel’s Introduction to Mass Media classes and they had a lasting impression. Vogel’s lecture communication classes highlighted the importance of the relationship between medium and message.

“Intro to Mass Media Technology was a great look at the communications landscape,” Wollett said. “ How people consume media, what it means to them, and how it affects their lives. In turn, the impact of audience consumption on the media itself and its delivery method.”

Vogel remembers fondly. “Chad is a wonderful example of a risk taker in the most positive way,” he said. “When I said he took risks, he produced his own show and took advantage of opportunities. He became a leader as a result.”

Between class projects, Wollett shot sports footage for Miami Media Services, and side projects with friends. Wollett said it helped him built a tool set he was eager to put to more important work. He took an independent study where his assignment was to produce something that was uniquely his -- the possibilities were infinite.

“I didn’t have a plan initially,” he said. “In every class, I kept my eye out for people who were creative and as passionate as I was. Senior year, I called together a sort of super group of ambitious and inventive minds. Myself and two other students started a sitcom.”

Wollett co-created a scripted parody series of reality television called “Passing Reality.” This was the first student-produced sitcom at Miami. A mash-up of reality shows like “Big Brother” meets “Friends” – a comedy Wollett enjoyed as a teenager.

Wollett and team were even able to secure funding for the show through a school program called “After Dark” that paid for sets to be built and scripts to be copied. He and the two other students wrote, edited, and produced five episodes of the show. Within days of the first episode airing, people around campus began to notice their actors off camera.

“The media you make that is outside the curriculum is the most impressive - doing more than what is required shows potential employers that you’re motivated.”

Heading West

Upon graduation, he sent a “Passing Reality” highlight reel to Miami Alumni Rick Ludwin (’70), then Senior VP of NBC Late Night and Primetime Series. It grabbed the attention of Ludwin and helped earn Wollett a spot in the NBC Page Program in Burbank, California.

“You don’t necessarily need to have a glamorous internship if you can point potential employers to something online – ambitious content that you produced,” he said.

His job entailed giving NBC studio tours, and filling ticket requests and audience seats for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” When beginning a career in television, “you have to start at the bottom and pay your dues.”

It was a great program to be a part of as it gave him access to temporary assignments in various departments at NBC Entertainment. After a year of being a Page, Ludwin hired him to assist the NBC Late Night Programming and Primetime Series department.

A Miami Mentor in Rick Ludwin

For five years, Wollett worked in a small programming department with Rick Ludwin and his colleague, Nick Bernstein. He was coordinating schedules and travel, answering the phones, and developing a discerning eye for quality comedy content and what resonates with the largest audience in late night.

In this role, Wollett had the opportunity to get know the staffs from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Last Call with Carson Daly” in Los Angeles, as well as “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” and “Saturday Night Live” in New York.

“Those first jobs are so important to prove yourself. Never answering a question with “I think” and being able to admit when you don’t know something. When I didn’t know an answer, I would research to make sure I knew next time,” he said.

Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!

Currently, as co-producer on the “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” Wollett oversees all production outside the studio. His job is to schedule these shoots and to make sure everything is efficient- to think of every possible scenario, and have a backup plan for the unexpected.

Segments produced include “Classroom Instruments,” “Rollercoaster Interview w/ Kevin Hart,” and “Peanuts (a Riverdale Parody).” An ambitious segment like Peanuts means days worth of pre-production to find locations to shoot, figure out travel times, and provide a seamless experience for the host and celebrity guests.

“Everyone on this show wants to give their absolute best at all times. That’s the thrill for me- to be on set at five in the morning and overwhelmed with what we have to accomplish in a short amount of time and see the other people around me, in it together.”

His other responsibilities include guiding the network promotion of the show, supplying NBC affiliate stations with custom local teases, providing show clips to outside programs, and suggesting episodes to re-air when the show is in repeats.

There’s No “I” in “Producer”

Wollett’s road to success started at Miami. From the sheer amount of workload, balancing multiple projects and developing time management strategies, he was always re-evaluating his priorities and determining what was possible.

“Juggling all the different coursework -tests, papers, and projects- went a long way to make me successful,” Wollett said. “I was constantly being put in teams. If it weren’t for my ability to be flexible and work with others, it would be impossible to do my job today.”

Wollett’s continued work on “The Tonight Show” demonstrates his achievement in late night TV. The segments “Classroom Instruments” and “#Hashtag” alone have generated more than 150 million views on YouTube. They are a gateway to laughter for anyone who watches.

His list of accomplishments only continues to grow. While working his way up the ranks, Wollett learns from everyone around him.

“You can’t do everything on your own,” he said. “My favorite parts in a lot of movies is when the lead character is alone and realizes they need to put a team together- a team as a whole is far greater than some of it’s parts. Surround yourself with people that share your passion and compliment your abilities.”