The new state-of-the-art studio in Rockefeller Center that houses the NBC O&O’s newscasts features a wide rooftop view of Manhattan behind anchors Darlene Rodriguez and Michael Gargiulo looking through what appears to be floor-to-ceiling windows. But those “windows” are actually five, adjacent 103-inch Panasonic plasma displays set on end and fed by a roof-top camera.
Studio 3C in Rockefeller Center is 2,500-square feet of windowless space. But you would never know it from the newscasts that WNBC New York has been broadcasting from the new, high-tech studio since last Saturday.
Behind the main anchor desk, viewers have a wide rooftop view of Manhattan looking south toward the Empire State Building through what appears to be floor-to-ceiling windows separated by chrome-plated stiles. But those “windows” are actually five, adjacent 103-inch Panasonic plasma displays set on end and fed by a roof-top camera.
The illusion works beautifully and is the most distinctive feature of the new studio — and a particularly concrete example of NBCUniversal’s investment in its station group since its takeover by Comcast in January 2011.
At the time of the ownership transition, says GM Michael Jack, “we were asked, what do you want? What do you want to help become No. 1, to make yourself better?… The set was clearly on the list.”
In the drive to be No. 1, Jack believes the studio will help producers and talent tell stories by giving them new ways to combine video and graphics.
Improved morale is another benefit, he says. “It feels really good for people at the station to have a set that all of us are proud of. Hopefully, our viewers like the presentation and, based on some of the responses we have seen thus far, I believe they do.”
The studio will be used for more than the regular daily newscasts. From it, the station is also producing two weekly shows — Mike’d Up with sports anchor Bruce Beck and Debrief with David Ushery — and segments for New York Nonstop and New York Live, an afternoon lifestyle show.
The new studio is “bigger and more flexible” than the old studio adjacent to the newsroom and news control room on the 7th floor, Jack said.
Jack said constructing the new studio had “absolutely nothing to do” with keeping up with the Joneses. In New York, the Joneses would be news leader WABC. It began airing news from a new studio near Lincoln Center last September. The street-level facility has real windows, but the views are pedestrian, often literally.
As distinctive as WNBC’s faux windows behind the anchor desk are, they were an afterthought. Working with ClickSpring Design, WNBC had originally built a giant video wall behind the anchor desk. It comprised 24 NEC 42-inch monitors mounted in a six-by-four array. And the station was all set to go with it on Jan. 21.
But it had to postponed the inaugural broadcast after discovering that the floor tiles were too soft for the four, robotic Vinten camera pedestals. Fully loaded with Sony cameras and teleprompters, they were causing depressions in the floor that would eventually impair their smooth movement.
While replacing the floor, Jack and his team grew increasingly fond of the faux window effect that was being used for another smaller set in another part of the studio. It uses three 103-inch displays.
“When we walked into the studio and all of us looked at it with a live feed from Times Square, it just struck us that it was a better way to present. So, we said, while we love it in this position, we are going to doubly love it behind the primary anchor set.”
It tells a story all by itself, he said. “Every time you look through that window, you are going to see what the weather is like in much of the region.”
In addition to the two window sets, there are four other sets around the perimeter of the studios, surrounding the four cameras in the center of the studio. Like everything else in the studio, the cameras are controlled from the seventh floor control room, which has a Sony switcher at its heart.
Two of the other mini-sets will be used primarily for weather. One has a green screen that can be rolled up like a movie screen should the space be needed for other purposes. The other is a small desk in front of an alcove at the back of the studio reserved for the weather and traffic reporters.
Yet, another position is in the back of the studio next to the weather desk. It features another of the 103-inch Panasonic plasmas, but this one is mounted conventionally like a chalk board and mounted on a track so it can be moved left to right. When needed, furniture can be brought in and placed before the panel.
The sixth position is what Jack calls “a giant iPad.”
It’s an apt metaphor. Made by Perceptive Pixel and running on Windows 7 and an HP server, the 82-inch touch screen works just like an iPad. Anchors and reporters can stand in front and tell their stories by calling up slides, video, charts, graphs and even websites with a touch of the finger. They can move from one pre-set image to another with a swipe.
The panel comes with software for creating multimedia presentations and for pulling in images from WNBC’s WSI weather system. Using Perceptive Pixel’s Storyboard app, anchors, reporters or producers can assemble items for a presentation on a 27-inch desktop display in the newsroom.
Another key feature of the studio is the eco-friendly LED lighting, which allows producers to give different looks to shows and newscasts. For instance, the morning news gets warmer, “yellowish” light, while the evening and late newsroom gets cooler, blue light.
For establishment shots, operators command two small Sony cameras suspended from the ceiling — one in front of the main anchor desk, the other behind.
The studio has plenty of history. It was the home of the network evening news with Tom Brokaw and then Brian Williams, until Williams moved into new digs across the hall in Studio 3B.