Some History About CBS Television City

CBS TV City

LAST UPDATED: SEPTEMBER 21, 2011

This section continues to evolve. Below I share some of what I have learned about the history of Television City, but certainly welcome additional information (and any corrections) from others. If you have something to contribute, please e-mail me at jas @ j-shea . com (remove the spaces).


Television City was built in the early 1950s by the CBS Television Network as its West Coast production facility. While New York City and Chicago were the dominant production centers during television's early years, networks gradually saw the potential of Hollywood as a locale to make programs. After all, California was home to the motion picture industry and its cavalcade of stars and creative talent. Initially, CBS used the facilities of its Columbia Square radio and television (KNX-AM, KNXT/KCBS-TV) complex on Sunset Boulevard, as well as some other locations scattered throughout Los Angeles, for West Coast network program origination. Among the more famous shows that came from the Columbia Square facility were "The Jack Benny Program" and "The Ed Wynn Show."

We may assume that increasing demands upon Columbia Square's relatively small facilities prompted CBS to eye a larger, more modern production and office center. The site chosen for it was a racetrack (and former oil field) on Beverly Boulevard near downtown Los Angeles. The architectural firm Pereira and Luckman was hired to design the facility, for which it received a Merit Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1954.

Read about William Pereira's "Minimal Modernist" style on this web page.

According to "In All His Glory," a book by Sally Bedell Smith about the life of CBS founder William S. Paley [1990, Simon and Schuster], "CBS dedicated its new $7 million Hollywood production and office facility, Television City, on November 15, 1952."

TV City was designed from the ground up to be a state-of-the-art facility geared for live telecast of programs. (Practical videotape recording equipment did not emerge until 1956.) Four studios -- 31, 33, 41 and 43 -- were built at ground level and designed to easily seat audiences through separate entrances. Executive and production offices were placed in the upper levels, and technical operations were centered in the basement.

All four studios had dedicated control rooms at their rear with large windows that overlooked the stage. Two studios, 31 and 33, had permanent audience seating; the audience area was depressed relative to stage level. (In later years, Studio 31's sunken audience area was filled in to expand the stage.) Movable audience seating was arranged in Studios 41 and 43 as needed. A scene dock was centrally located to serve all four adjoining studios.

Thanks to Richard Andrewski for sending these scanned pages from a May 1952 architectural magazine article about the building of CBS Television City. The "future concept" pages show that the facility was designed with an eye towards expansion with as many as 12 studios.
First Floor  |  Basement  |  Second Floor
Early Progress  |  Air Conditioning  |  Model and Construction  |  Studios 31/33 Construction
Studio 33 Lighting  |  Studio 33 Seating  |  Future Concept (1)  |  Future Concept (2)

According to the reference book, "The New York Times Encyclopedia of Television" by Les Brown, CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow introduced the viewing public to the Network's impressive new facilities in a special broadcast aptly named "Television City." After reading this, CBS employee James Hergenrather contacted me with conflicting information about the inaugural special. He says:

"The official dedication of [CBS Television City] was...accompanied by a special one-hour live broadcast from Studios 31 and 33, and was titled 'CBS Stars in the Eye.' All of the Network's stars were on the show, along with the Governor of California, the Mayor of Los Angeles, and CBS Television President Volkenburg."

I've since viewed a kinescope of "Stars in the Eye" and can confirm Mr. Hergenrather's statement. Edward R. Murrow is not seen in this special. So, I am left to wonder whether Murrow was involved with a separate program that highlighted Television City's grand opening -- perhaps a remote pickup to Hollywood during an episode of his "Person to Person" series?

As Television City came on line, network television shows then produced at Columbia Square migrated to 7800 Beverly Boulevard. A retired CBS friend of mine told an interesting story. He was working as an engineer at Columbia Square when TV City opened in '52. At that time, technicians were offered a choice to either remain at Columbia Square or go to the new place. He reflects that he's happy to have chosen the latter!

"From Television City in Hollywood..."
That familiar line has preceded many legendary CBS programs. I won't attempt to list here all the shows that have come from TV City, but some of the more notable ones are: "Playhouse 90," "The Jack Benny Program," "Burns and Allen," "The Judy Garland Show," "The Red Skelton Show," "Art Linkletter's House Party," "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," "All in the Family," "The Carol Burnett Show," "The (New) Price Is Right," "Match Game '7x" and "The Young and the Restless." Television City also was home to "The Ed Sullivan Show" when it visited California, and even to non-CBS shows such as ABC's "Three's Company" and numerous syndicated and cable series. It is considered by many in the business to be the best television production facility on the West Coast. TV City has had a lot of outside clients over the years.

Technical Notes
For those interested in the technical equipment side of Television City, I offer this information. According to Ed Reitan's excellent web site about the history of early color television, the original black-and-white studio cameras at Television City were made by Marconi and Pye. (We may speculate that CBS selected cameras manufactured overseas rather than purchase ones from rival RCA, then owner of NBC.) Early experiments in color television production were made during the mid-1950s in Studio 43 using RCA TK-40A cameras and in Studio 41 with the TK-41 model. In 1965, TV City began to adopt the Norelco PC-60 color camera for all its studios. These were succeeded by the electronically improved, but nearly physically identical, Norelco PC-70 model. CBS and Hitachi jointly developed the SK-110 camera to replace the aging PC-70s in the early 1980s. Today, solid-state high definition cameras are used.

The migration to color program production in the mid-1960s was hampered by the difficulty in acquiring color cameras. Read an article (PDF) published in January 1966 about the state of color television at the three networks.

Watch a vintage piece of animation that preceded early CBS-TV colorcasts.

The first on-air use of a videotape recorder, the Ampex VR-1000, was made at Television City in 1956 to play a delayed broadcast of "The CBS Evening News with Douglas Edwards" to the Pacific Time Zone. The two-inch quadruplex videotape format was dominant at the facility until one-inch Type C arrived there in the early 1980s. Later in the '80s, a digital tape format was adopted for recording most studio programs.

A particularly interesting place in TV City's basement is its so-called "Jurassic Park" videotape center. In the early 1990s, several old quad VTRs were acquired and brought back to proper specifications to enable the dubbing of programs on two-inch tape to Digital Betacam. Mark Goodson Productions was the first major customer. Twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week for months, CBS handled the archiving of the Goodson-Todman videotape library. Thousands of tapes were processed. Two Digital Betacam dubs were made of each two-inch master; one went to Goodson and the other to Sony for use on its cable Game Show Network. I'm told that the output of one of the dubbing stations was placed on a closed-circuit channel inside Television City. The vintage shows were quite a hit with employees in the building.

 
CBS TVC expansion program


Expansion
In the mid-1980s, CBS built an annex to Television City to house two additional large studios, 36 and 46. Later, upstairs rehearsal halls in the main building were converted into Studios 56 and 58 (one first used by the late night "Pat Sajak Show").

Enjoy a Classic CBS Television City Production
Pioneer Artists has released episodes of the 1963-64 "Judy Garland Show" on DVD. This weekly music-variety series was recorded in Studio 43 in crystal-clear monochrome with Marconi Mark IV cameras. Even if you're not a fan of Garland's considerable talents, you will find these hour-long episodes fascinating. The program's production values are outstanding, most notably in the areas of direction, camera work and audio quality. It's also amazing how well the program's two-inch master videotapes held up for some 35 years.

That's it for now. Perhaps we'll have some additions/updates in the future should new information come to the fore.