Pardon me for writing about old news, but everything is old news about 17 minutes after it happens these days. Sometimes around noon I get a deep pang of nostalgia for things we were angry about three hours before, and when I look at the front page of the paper, which was about that impossibly distant thing called yesterday, I almost expect the top headline to say: “Germany surrenders!”
You suspect that the people who run afoul of public opinion prefer it this way. “Man accused of bilking orphanage” can hunker down, hold his breath and wait for “Actor criticizes vegan hot dogs,” which will suck up all the oxygen for 37 minutes.
Anyway, cast your mind back to a time in the impossibly distant past, when we learned that the taxpayers had paid more than a quarter of a million dollars to “The Tonight Show” to broadcast from Minneapolis during the Super Bowl. Remember that? It was early July, when dinosaurs still strode the Earth.
Anyone still mad about that? Well, you shouldn’t be.
If we hadn’t given NBC money, the show would have been pathetic. We’d have looked like a low-rent cow town without two dimes to rub together. People who tuned in expecting a big show with all the glitz and pizazz of late-night TV would have seen host Jimmy Fallon sitting at a card table in a community center, wearing perhaps a barrel with suspenders or a cheap suit glommed from a Ragstock rack. A band? No such luxuries. Some guy off-camera with a harmonica, maybe.
The network probably called up someone at the statehouse and said, “We’d love to do ‘The Tonight Show’ in Minneapolis. What? No, Johnny Carson’s not doing it anymore. Yeah, he’s dead. Thank you, that means a lot. Anyway, we’d love to do the show there, but it’s been a lean year and we’re low on funds. What’s that? Nooooo; not a loan; we were thinking more along the lines of a gift. Really? You have money sitting around for just that purpose? Awesome.”
What did we get out of it? Well, exposure, of course. The number of people who had never heard of Minneapolis and did not know that there was a Super Bowl here must have numbered in the high teens, and if two of those people watched the show and one was a tech CEO who was looking to relocate his profitable business, well, that sort of investment pays for itself. In a year or so, expect to read an interview like this:
“I was looking around for a suitable home for my new factory, and all the usual places were making offers. Tax abatements up the yin-yang. Then I walked past a TV and saw Jimmy Follow, or whatever his name was, and he seemed happy wherever he was. I thought, ‘If he’s so pleased to be there, perhaps that’s the place to invest $17 billion.’ So I did.”
This interview will appear in the Indianapolis Star because the CEO doesn’t listen very carefully, and, besides, Minneapolis sounded like a tiny version of a real town.
The argument in favor of the subsidy usually notes that locals are hired for these events, and that’s nice. The show did spend $320,000 on local salaries, plus money on lodging and meals, it was noted. And that likely was a sizable hunk of change, seeing as we doubt that Fallon crashed on someone’s couch.
Perhaps they should have avoided asking for the rebate, and just said those magic words: “We have a coupon!”