Long before two-time Emmy Award winner T.J. Allard would share an improv stage with “Parks and Recreation” star Amy Poehler, design video games for the “Batman” series, or pitch the idea for his latest project, History’s “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch,” he was a student at SUNY Poly.
It was the mid- ‘90s and the Utica native had read an article in Wired magazine which recognized SUNY Poly for its high internet bandwidth and having every residence hall dorm wired for internet access. At a time when the fraction of Americans who had internet access were using dial-up, Allard was ecstatic about the opportunity.
“It was like, ‘whoa, what is this? This is amazing,’” he recalls. “That was the first place I saw the internet that didn’t use America Online (AOL).”
Apart from the technical advantage of his choice in a post-secondary institution, Allard said SUNY Poly’s value as a public university was a deciding factor in his choice for higher education.
“I’ve always been interested in technology and that’s partly what drew me there,” he said. “It was a great education and it wasn’t comparatively expensive as nearby private schools. And it was at the forefront of technology.”
During his time at SUNY Poly, he worked as a radio disc jockey for 107.3 WRCK – then called Rock 107 – where his interest in merging entertainment and technology began to develop. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1997, Allard moved to New York City to accept a position with management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
“I think what they liked was that I had gone to a tech-savvy school, and it was one of these “wired” so-to-speak schools.”
After about a year, Allard decided to change careers and went to work for Ubisoft as a video game designer where he helped to design several games, including those in the “Batman” series.
“The internet is kind of taking off at this time, and, because of my SUNY Poly experience, I was very comfortable,” he said.
Allard reached a turning point in life when he lost his apartment and belongings in the September 11 terror attacks. He lived only three blocks from the World Trade Center.
“That kind of wakes you up, you know? I realized I really wanted to work in television, and I just started networking and meeting people.”
Allard soon found himself at New York City’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater where he was coached by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, among several others among the “big collective group of theater nerds,” some of whom went on to star in TV comedies including NBC’s “The Office.”
During his time there, he landed small on-camera gigs and began acting in off-Broadway productions before he “got bit by the producing bug.” He started producing TV commercials for brands like Hamburger Helper and Nature Valley before landing a job as a producer at NBC. There, he produced nationally-recognized programs including, “Open House NYC” and “Open House.”
He also produced “Daykeover: with Libby Langdon” and “Foundations” for NBCUniversal, and “George to the Rescue,” which earned him Emmy Awards for his work.
Around 2015, he found himself at San Francisco-based Letter10 Productions where he was able to work with Joel Patterson, the company’s owner and executive producer, and Allard’s longtime friend.
“Whenever we would pitch shows in the paranormal genre, it was always like ‘That’s great but it’s not like Area 51 or Roswell or Skinwalker Ranch,” he said. “Because of my love of tech, my idea for a show was I wanted a paranormal version of “The Curse of Oak Island.”
Frustrated by shows where “ghost hunters” move from location to location and find little evidence or activity, Allard gained long-term access to Utah’s Skinwalker Ranch where his team of researchers could use controlled experiments to help find the cause of reported UFO sightings and alleged paranormal activities at the site.
“I thought, ‘How about we use science and try to get to the bottom of these things because, if there is data, that is attainable and measurable,’” He said. “You can study that over a long period of time.”
Letter10 Productions was able to partner “The Curse of Oak Island” and “Ancient Aliens” producer Prometheus Entertainment to co-produce “The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch” to achieve the storytelling style he envisioned. The show premiered March 31 on History and Allard seems impressed with its ratings.
“If ratings hold, we have a good shot at another season right out of the gate and the timing couldn’t be better to give people a way to get some escapism,” he said.
Thinking back to his time at SUNY Poly, Allard said former marketing professor Kenneth Martin, MBA, taught him a life lesson he has carried with him over the last three decades:
“Be genuinely nice to people because you don’t know how far that may go,” he said, crediting the advice to his success in landing several of his TV production roles. “Don’t ever think that someone owes you something, and just keep on working.“