Color City 

3 December 2018

From NBC Chimes, the staff magazine of the National Broadcasting Company, for May-June 1955. Biggest news in TV today is color, with NBC leading the way. And, without a doubt, the biggest news in color TV is NBC’s spanking new Color City in Burbank, California. Shown on the cover is Color City’s control room, with color test patterns lighting up the monitors.

With facilities unmatched in the industry, Color City swung into action on March 27 as West Coast headquarters for NBC’s color programming. The dedication was marked by a 90-minute color Spectacular, “Entertainment 1955”, a gala salute to showbusiness. Ceremonies were attended by 700 persons, including leading representatives of government, business, advertising, the press and the entertainment industry.

In honor of the opening in Burbank, Governor [Goodwin] Knight designated the week of March 27 within California as “NBC Color Television Week”. Vice President Richard Nixon wired NBC his congratulations.

Representing an overall investment of more than $7,000,000 [$66m in 2018 allowing for inflation], Color City features the first studio ever to be built from the ground up specifically for colorcasting. Built and equipped at a cost of $3,600,000 [$34m], it is one of the world’s largest television studios, with floor space of 140 feet by 90 feet and 42 feet of clearance from floor to ceiling.

The studio takes its place with two existing studios and a service building, all of which were constructed on NBC’s 50-acre tract in Burbank in 1952. Other new construction includes a control building, a technical building and a rehearsal studio which can also be used for commercials and orchestral scoring. In addition, the service building, housing set-decoration shops and other facilities, has been extended to double its former size.

The new facilities total 12,600 square feet, bringing the total Color City space to 55,900 square feet.

The new studio is fitted out with the latest of RCA technical equipment and the world’s most elaborate television lighting system.

An unusual feature of the new studio is an “audience pit”, allowing a studio audience, sitting below floor level, to watch a production from close up without interfering with the cameras, which can shoot over the guests’ heads, if necessary. This permits the kind of artist-audience rapport which is considered vital to the best television productions. When not in use, the pit is covered up to become part of the studio floor. The large-screen RCA color projector also allows the studio audience to watch the performance in color on a movie-size, 15-by-20 foot screen.

The complex lighting system — a Century Izenour lighting board — permits the pre-setting of lighting for 10 scenes, double the number that was possible with previous systems. The board, moreover, permits 10 changes of lighting within any one scene. A $350,000 [$3.3m] air-conditioning plant, designed to handle the problem of the hotter lights required by color telecasting, has also been installed.

The new technical building serves as the nerve center for all NBC facilities at Burbank, with the audio and video controls necessary to tie the studios into one manageable operation. It also includes a film center with two RCA three-vidicon camera chains, each of which can be “patched out” to any of the live studios.

In addition to full provisions for artist accommodations and technical facilities, the two-story control building has enough extra space to house the same facilities for a second color studio to be built in the future.

The dedication show itself — “Entertainment 1955” — went off beautifully, a major credit to all concerned. Naturally, though, it was a huge undertaking, as show rehearsal and final construction came down the stretch breathing on each other’s neck, to meet the March 27th deadline. The following is a behind-the-scenes report on that race, by Ruth Ronnau of the Pacific Division.

“For one who has been accustomed to escorting middle-aged ladies from Iowa and starry-eyed kids from Kansas down to Studio D to watch Dinah Shore or Tony Martin, the vastness and grandeur of the new Color installation in Burbank is a bit disconcerting. Watching it come into being was an experience we will not soon forget.

“Our first sight of the ‘diggin’s’ took place last December. We risked life and limb perilously skirting vast yawning craters from the depths of which drifted up bits of conversation which sounded like Swahili, but had to do with electrical, refrigeration, and construction principles. Our safari laboriously surmounted great mountains of cables and stood gaping up into dizzying mazes of catwalks, pipes and more cables where the hundreds of spots and overhead gadgets were later to be put. That this mammoth confusion of wet concrete, scaffolding, and the never-ending cacophony of air hammers could ever become the efficient, smoothly operating installation it was demonstrated as being on March 27 was unbelievable. And yet it happened.

“As the date of the actual opening approached, preparations became more and more fevered. New equipment was arriving daily to be installed and tested. New sets were being built, eyes were being hung, and frantic writers were tearing their hair out by handfuls.

“Then the serious business of putting the actual show together got into high gear. The name personalities began arriving for costume fittings and rehearsals. If anyone connected with the show got any sleep from the 20th of March on, he will not admit it.

“With a show of this size and scope, naturally, rehearsal space, and lots of it, is essential. Unfortunately, that’s something we didn’t have much of during the race against time. If you doubt this ask Fred Allen. Poor Fred! No matter where he put down his hat and tried to rehearse, someone else was either already there, or they moved in. He finally ended up rehearsing in one of the old dressing rooms. He really didn’t care, he commented plaintively, a broom closet would have done. Just so he could stay in one place long enough to read the script through — just once. An entire show, incidentally, could have been built around his comments as he was being shoved from pillar to post.

“About the show itself, little need be said because we all watched it. Words are inadequate when attempting to pass out the credits for the smoothness with which the show went off, but we do have to toss a few bouquets to Jack Rayel, Producer-Director, Jerry Madden, Unit Production Manager, Bob Henry, Associate Producer, and Dick McDonough, Director.

“The hit of the evening from the back-stage angle was the ‘Big Three Trio’ — B. A. Graham, President of the Sunbeam Corporation, and our own Pat Weaver and Robert Sarnoff. These three never missed a call, were never late for a rehearsal, never argued with the director or ever once demanded that their parts be re-written. This kind of cooperation is what producers dream about.

“After the show, when everybody sort of slid down in his chair and gave a prolonged ‘whewwww’, a real great celebration took place. It was a fabulous party in the NBC tradition — you had to see the buffet to believe it. Of course, the reveler who woke up the next morning and found the $1,000 [$9,500] cockatoo perched on his chandelier may have a few uncomfortable memories, but to all the rest it was a wonderful feeling of ‘Big job, well done’.”

You Say

1 response to this article

Joseph Gallant 31 December 2018 at 8:06 pm

A few years back, NBC sold-off Color City. It’s still a TV/multimedia production centre, now known as Burbank Studios.

(Most of NBC’s West Coast operations are now at nearby Universal Studios; a result of NBC’s merger with Universal some years ago)

The article noted an old “Studio D”. That was actually a studio at NBC’s old Hollywood Radio City at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. While Color City opened in 1955, some NBC television programmes (transmitted in black-and-white) that didn’t need enormous studio space remained at Hollywood Radio City for a few more years.

By the very early 1960’s, NBC had consolidated it’s Los Angeles-area operations at Color City (after a few more studios had been added), and Hollywood Radio City was torn down and replaced by a bank.

NBC Color City was probably to American television what BBC Television Centre in London was to British television: The most iconic TV broadcasting and production complex in that particular country.

(By the way, I got to visit NBC Color City while on vacation in 2000)

Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Friday 19 July 2024