VH1’s Tom Calderone On Producing 'Super Bowl Blitz: 6 Concerts + 6 Nights,' His 'Long-Suffering' Buffalo Bills Fandom

Janelle Monae, who performed at Lehman College in the Bronx on Tuesday night (Jan. 28) as part of VH1's s 'Super Bowl Blitz: Six Nights + Six Concerts,' with VH1 Presdient Tom Calderone. 

(photo: Robert Altman/Picturegroup)

To say Tom Calderone's life has been upended this week would be something of an understatement. As president of VH1 he oversees his network's rather ambitious 'Super Bowl Blitz: Six Nights + Six Concerts' initiative. The live concert series building up to Sunday's Super Bowl, features J. Cole, Janelle Monae, Fall Out Boy, TLC, Goo Goo Dolls and Gavin Degraw each playing a concert over the course of six consecutive nights (Jan 26 - Feb. 1) in one of New York City's five boroughs and New Jersey that is broadcast live on VH1. We caught up with Calderone at Lehman college in the Bronx where Monae's band was in the middle of sound-checking to find out how he's handling all the logistics, what it's like producing a live TV event, his post-event content plans as well as his experience as a "long-suffering" Buffalo Bills fan.

Billboard.biz: How are you holding up with all you’re doing this week?
Tom Calderone: I’m doing okay. We're in day two of six nights and I’m  relatively okay. Last night was great, we did the show with J. Cole and needless to say it killed. It was at Queens college and it was a great show not just live but also for TV.

So you’re in the Bronx now with Janelle Monae - - I can hear sound-checking.
Yes, tonight's The Bronx, tomorrow's Brooklyn, then we segue over to Manhattan with TLC at the Beacon and then Friday in Staten Island with the Goos and then Saturday we have show in New Jersey where the Super Bowl is being played with Gavin Degraw.

Will you sleep this week?
We're on such an adrenaline high, the whole team is just pushing through, but this is not a typical kind of production for us. A lot of times you do a show and you're housed in one place for a couple of days. This is kind of like a circus. We’ve got to put our stakes in the ground and then pick up and do the next one -- it's a little taxing.

 

What are the logistics of this kind of undertaking?
The one advantage we have is that the locations we picked are already self-contained venues -- Lehman Collage today for example has all the facilities you would need to put on a "normal" show. That's extremely helpful, it's not like we're building stages from scratch The logistics come in while we're here in the Bronx there's another team in the Brooklyn getting ready for tomorrow night's show. And while were in Brooklyn there will be people in Manhattan at the Beacon Theatre getting ready for TLC rehearsing for the Thursdays night show. There's always another crew one venue ahead of us to make sure they can get things up and running. It's a lot of logistics and a lot of planning.

Who are the people on your team who should be shouted-out?
Lee Rolontz is running the production, he’s our EVP of music production. Rick Krimm  EVP, Talent and Programming runs music for us -- he and his team have been in charge  with booking all the talent for us. Those two execs have done an amazing job. Underneath them : Lara Fried is the day-to-day executive producer for the show and Sandy Alouete for the music team.  Those four people have really had the bulk of the weight on them. I hate to shout out names because there's also production management which has dong an amazing job -- os many great poiple -- it's a REAL team effort.

How’s the demand for tickets?
Everything is just about sold-out. As we predicted internally, once Monday came everybody kind of woke up and said “Oh, god it's Super Bowl week, that's going on. “ Most of the shows have sold out -- there's a few tickets here and there, but pretty much all sold-out.

Nick Cannon and Stacy Keibler host Janelle Monae's performance of VH1's 'Super Bowl Blitz: Six Nights + Six Concerts' at Lehman College in the Bronx. (Photo: RA/Picturegroup)

How has it been producing for live TV?
It's funny, one thing happened at the top of yesterday’s show: Nick Canon and Stacey Keibler,  our hosts, were so pumped-up that they actually started walking down the aisle through the audience to introduce J. Cole while our actual taped opening was happening.  We had to kind of yell from the truck "Put them back in place!" There was a lot of nervous energy. The great thing about live TV, especially when you watch the show, is the energy from the crowd:  the singing along to lyrics, watching people Instagram pictures of themselves -- it was really lot of fun. We want to capture that energy every night.

How are the ratings?
We were the No. 1 late night trending show on Twitter TV, which was really great to see. And tonight's going to be great with Janelle Monae, They know her from her commercials and the fun. song and this could be a break out performance for her because it's her own show, solely one hour with her.  People are really going to see that she puts on a show.  She's got a full band -- not just guitar and drum but also horns, background singers violins

It looks like your sponsors are M&Ms, Papa John and Verizon and you're also an official partner of the NFL?
Yes, they've sanctioned the event -- been in constant contact with them for the rehearsal -- they incredibly supportive.

Do you share sponsorships with the league?
No, these are our sponsorships that we brokered. Needless to say we want to be aligned with the NFL when it comes to sponsors and then we can use their leverage on getting the word out on our shows. These are own special deals that we made for VH1.

What kind of promotions are you doing?
The only promotion we did was a spot during the Grammys.

Are NFL players showing up?
Yes, tonight we have a couple of players from the Dallas Cowboys; last night the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL has been totally great about getting different players to introduce the act.  [At Fall out Boy in Brooklyn Dallas Cowboy's Justin Durant introduced two songs. At Janelle Monáe in Bronx Jacksonville Jaguars, Maurice Jones-Drew was on hand].

J. Cole performing at Kupferberg Center for the Arts, Queens College on Jan. 27 in Queens. (Photo: Corredor / Picturegroup)

What are you plans for the content on the backend with video and audio?
They'll be repeats on VH1 and on Palladia, our HD music network, and then from there on VH1.com and VH1 app. As far as releasing DVDs or CDs, that's really up to the artist.  If the artist comes up to us and says, “look I think I killed it I'd love to release this,” we'd be happy to do a partnership with them to make it available to them.  Usually those kinds of conversations happen after a couple of week when artist and management get to watch it and get feedback from their fans and figure out what's next. We haven't really had a situation where we say we want to release this, it's really all about the artist feeling comfortable about it.

What’s your plan for during the Super Bowl itself, will these air then as well?
Once the game happens, once were done with Gavin McGraw at midnight on Saturday then it's all about the game and everyone's going to be focused on that.  That’s when the sleep comes that's when we watch from our couch and eat chicken wings.   And believe it or not, we've already had pre-meetings about next year super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. Getting ready to start scouting. They start planning while the current Super bowl's in play and we already started having conversations about what we're going to do in Arizona next year

So who are you rooting for?
As a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan, I'm waiting for the day when my team is back in it. Hopefully, it was more than 10 years ago -- four in a row super bowl appearances [1990-1993]-- but it'd be nice to close one out.

The Jim Kelly years?
Yeah, and Thurman Thomas. So I'm actually going for the legacy of Peyton Manning and the Broncos it'd be great to see him win. Although Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks was a former Buffalo Bill, I think he's a really incredible , talented player, but I'm leaning a little bit towards the Broncos

So it’s an AFC thing?
It's an AFC thing.