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The following story appeared in the Park Labrea News and Beverly Press 70th Anniversary issue, published April 21. To view the entire issue, click here.
“Live from CBS Television City, it’s The Price Is Right!” The popular game show hosted by Bob Barker debuted on Aug. 19, 1972 and is one of the highly successful programs produced and broadcast at the Fairfax Avenue studio.
The site once teemed with sounds of revving engines and roaring crowds at Gilmore Stadium and Gilmore Field, which became CBS’s new television production facility. The New York City based studio, was scouting a location in Los Angeles.
The media giant had a radio facility at Columbia Square on Sunset Boulevard, and broadcast the network’s first live television shows from the West Coast. CBS also used small theaters in Hollywood to tape live shows, but they didn’t meet the need for the growing television medium. CBS wanted a location where it could do everything in one place, from rehearsal and taping to post-production and broadcast. In 1949, the network bought 25 acres of land at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue from the A.F. Gilmore Company for $1.2 million, and network executives set out to create the world’s first full-service television studio.
“They wanted to be in Hollywood and they found this big piece of land they were able to buy without the restrictions of geography,” said Barry Zegel, senior vice president/general manager of Television City.
The architectural firm Pereira and Luckman designed the facility to accommodate 30 hours of live programming per week. It housed sound stages, set construction shops, scenery storage, rehearsal halls, post-production offices and broadcast transmission facilities. Construction began in 1950 and the studio was completed less than two years later. The result was Television City – literally a small city unto itself – which became home to 700 employees.
“At this facility you can do soup to nuts. A producer can walk in with just an idea and we can make it a reality. Virtually everything a show needs is here or we can put it together,” Zegel said. “It was the first building built for television. Television was an evolving thing and we took a lot of guesses, but we guessed pretty good. It is still a full-service television studio that is on the cutting edge today.”
CBS Television City produced iconic shows from its very beginning. The first program produced at the studio was “My Friend Irma,” a comedy starring Marie Wilson. By 1954, five shows were broadcast weekly – “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” The Bob Crosby Show,” “The Red Skelton Show,” “The Jo Stafford Show” and “Life With Father.” Later that year, “Life With Father” became the first show broadcast in color from CBS Television City.
Jim Hergenrather, broadcast associate director for CBS Television City and the studio’s archivist, said live variety shows dominated the 1950s, but the studio quickly adapted as technology improved and television formats changed. In 1956, the first program recorded on videotape and then re-broadcast – “Douglas Edwards and the News” – was taped in CBS Television City’s basement. An episode of “Playhouse 90,” a long-running drama series in the late-1950s, was pre-recorded and spliced together. It was the first time a television show was recorded and edited for future broadcast. Danny Kaye and Judy Garland also taped their variety shows at the studio in the early 1960s.
“There were so many programs that started out from Television City,” Hergenrather said. “It’s where people wanted to be. You had the feeling it was something special when you worked at Television City.”
Someof TV’s most popular shows were produced at CBS Television City, including “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” “The Merv Griffin Show,” “The Dinah Shore Show” and “The Mike Douglas Show.” Andy Griffith, Dionne Warwick and Dick Van Dyke also taped specials at CBS Television City.
Many may wonder about veteran CBS Evening News broadcaster Walter Cronkite’s connection to the studio. Hergenrather said Cronkite sometimes broadcast from Television City if events unfolded in Los Angeles and circumstances warranted, but not on a regular basis. The map seen behind Cronkite in the news show, however, now hangs in the studio’s lobby.
One of the most famous shows ever taped at CBS Television City debuted in 1971 – “All in the Family.” Caroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker made “All in the Family” one of the most controversial programs in television history, Zegel said. It pushed the limits of what could be said on television. “Three’s Company,” also produced at the studio, was considered controversial when it debuted because it starred an unmarried man living with two women.
“It showed how adaptive the network was,” Zegel added. “Whatever genres came up, Television City was able to accommodate that.”
Game shows found a home at CBS Television City. “The Price Is Right” became the longest running game show in television history and is still taped at Television City. Audiences can often be seen waiting in line outside the studio to be the next contestants to “come on down” in the game show now hosted by Drew Carey. “Match Game,” “Joker’s Wild” and “Name That Tune” also drew in live audiences by the thousands.
CBS Television City is also famous for another genre – daytime television. “The Young and the Restless” started taping there in 1973 and is still produced at the facility. It is the longest-running daytime television program. Many other soaps have run the cycle there, and “The Bold and the Beautiful” is still spinning today.
Zegel said many people are surprised to learn that shows aired on other networks are taped at CBS Television City, including “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” The studio has served as a post-production facility for movies including “Batman,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Patriot Games.” The studio has also been featured in front of the camera. Tom Hanks filmed his feature “That Thing You Do” at CBS Television City.
Hergenrather said CBS Television City still operates in some of the same ways today as it did in the beginning, which is why many production companies use the studio. Its eight sound stages are always brimming with activity, he added. The studio’s connectivity with wardrobe, make-up and rehearsal space near all of the sound stages, and post-production facilities on-site for editing and broadcast, still make it unique.
Zegel said CBS Television City executives plan to keep the studio on the cutting edge of television formats well into the future. The studio has been taping in high definition formats and is adapting as the technology improves. Engineers are already working on virtual reality television. Zegel said the studio will be ready to meet any challenges and be able to meet demands no matter how television transforms in the future.
“We used to call ourselves broadcasters but we now call ourselves a content provider,” Zegel said. “We sell a lot of content to Netflix and iTunes. Whatever people are going to want, you have to have the programming. A lot of that happens here.”
While much goes on behind the scenes at CBS Television City out of the public eye, Zegel and Hergenrather added that it remains a destination for people from around the world eager to join a studio audience or tour the studio.
“It’s a dynamic place with an ongoing history and a connection to Los Angeles,” Zegel said. “And the audiences are an important part of that connection.”
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