Kathy Fortine likens her last decade as associate director on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to that of an air traffic controller. “I don’t land the plane,” she explains. “But I do have to make sure the landing gear is down, the lights are on, and the runway is clear.”
From her spot in the booth next to current show director Andy Fisher, Fortine breaks down all the musical cues and ensures cameras are ready-to-shoot. She also counts video clips onto air, does a shot breakdown during commercials, times each segment into and out of breaks, and proofs the chyrons (on-screen graphics) before they air.
“Since moving to the 11:35 p.m. timeslot, everything’s gotten bigger, better, and more hectic,” she confirms. “We are doing more live bits with the same amount of prep time.”
One really whacky show Fortine remembers included three major performance segments: chemical gas experiments with Science Bob Plugfelder that required a lengthy pre-show setup; a parody of Kimmel singing with Boyz II Men; and two live concert songs from Rammstein that featured full pyrotechnics.
“I got one pass with Rammstein when they did a practice set,” she says, “but no pyro rehearsal because they didn’t have enough load. One song featured a rocket that had to be cued and shot off from our lighting tower onto the stage. When the show was over and everything went perfectly, it was a huge sigh of relief. Then I thought, ‘OK, let’s get up tomorrow and do it again.’”
Fortine’s first job out of college was as a page at CBS Studios in Los Angeles. “Everything you’ve learned about production becomes outdated a few weeks later,” she laughs. “So when I saw a professional AD for the first time [on-set at CBS], I was like, ‘Wow! That person is juggling 30 balls in the air. I want to do that.’”
Time spent with the game show production company Goodson-Todman proved valuable when she landed a long-running gig with Dick Clark Productions. “Game shows are basically live-to-tape, which transfers well to the world of variety.”
Fortine’s “runway” on Kimmel reached new levels of chaos earlier this year when Matt Damon “commandeered” the show. “We got the script that morning, and the different celebrities who showed up all had bits, which we didn’t have time to rehearse,” Fortine recalls.
“Sheryl Crow became our bandleader, and Andy Garcia was outside on Hollywood Boulevard. We had Amy Adams, Nicole Kidman, Robin Williams, and Ben Affleck all making unique entrances. It was hilarious, and there were a lot of balls in the air.”