Friday, March 14, 2014

End of an era: NBC bids farewell to “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”

Aerial view of NBC's iconic Burbank lot, as
featured in an issue of Radio Age from 1955.
After 59 years, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is moving their West Coast operations from their iconic Burbank, California facility to Universal City.

In 1955, then-parent Radio Corporation of America (RCA) decided that the network’s “West Coast Radio City” facilities (demolished in 1964) were deemed inadequate for television broadcasting and productions. After purchasing land from Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner, NBC would design a new studio facility that was specifically designed for color television broadcasts. It would be the first major color television studio facility in the nation.

In March of that year, NBC’s Burbank operations opened on West Alameda Avenue, known as “NBC Color City”. The network’s other television operations (including the West Coast news bureau and the network-owned KNBC-TV) would move into the Burbank lot.

Over the years, many iconic programs were telecast or produced from the Burbank facility, such as the Bob Hope comedy specials, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (and to a lesser extent- Jay Leno), The Dean Martin Show, Elvis Presley’s 1968 “comeback” special, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Flip Wilson Show, The Hollywood Squares, Sanford & Son, and The Midnight Special. Special editions of NBC Nightly News would originate out of the Burbank/Los Angeles news bureau.

NBC announced in 2007 that they were planning to move their West Coast operations to corporate sibling Universal Studios (then-parent General Electric acquired a majority stake in Universal from French conglomerate Vivendi in 2004, thus creating NBCUniversal). The network sold their Burbank facilities to Worthe Real Estate Group in 2008, it was renamed The Burbank Studios*.  Other NBC operations would remain there until the early part of this year. This move happened after the second Leno incarnation of The Tonight Show ended in February, as the late night program would move back to New York with Jimmy Fallon as host.

The last network program to originate from the Burbank facility was the March 13th telecast of The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, on MSNBC (featuring clips from vintage NBC programs that were taped at Burbank). On that program, O’Donnell said it best about the network’s migration to new West Coast digs at Universal City- “it will be a studio with no memories”.

Despite the network’s lackluster programs in recent years, the facility will still live on- as The Burbank Studios* from “beautiful downtown Burbank”.

*Not to be confused with the other “Burbank Studios”, which was used as the name for Warner Bros. studios from 1972 to 1990 (when they leased part of their studio space to competitor Columbia Pictures).

IN MEMORIAM: We lost two industry greats this week, noted voice-over artist Hal Douglas (1924-2014) and production manager Abby Singer (1917-2014).

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