The ABC O&O in New York has has a new studio that looks out on 66th Street and Columbus Avenue near Lincoln Center. The low ceilings proved a challenge at first, but LED lighting overcame that hurdle. It features remote-controlled Ikegami HDL-50 POV cameras, whose robotic heads are controlled via fiber optics from the control room. Its street-level location features two remote-controlled, weather-proofed outdoor cameras for crowd shots. Across the street, in Richard Tucker Park, another camera can get wide shots of the studio.
WABC’s New Studio Gives It Street Cred
In a video tour of WABC New York’s new street-level studio, anchor Bill Ritter tells viewers the Disney-owned station expects the studio to become one of the city’s top tourist attractions, right up there with Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
That may a tad ambitious. But the studio, which fronts the corner of 66th Street and Columbus Avenue near Lincoln Center and went on the air Sept. 24, is a bit of a technological marvel.
“We looked at [the space] as a street-front studio, but the problem was the ceiling height,” says WABC General Manager Dave Davis. “It wasn’t high enough for all the lights and stuff. But as the technology changed, we were able to use LED lights, which are less intense and don’t make as much heat. We were able to put them closer to the anchor desk.”
Bryan Higgason, of ClickSpring Design, who designed the set, confirms that the project was a challenge. At its highest, the grid is 11 feet, six inches, he says. In most places, it is just 11 feet.
“You needed to find a way to handle HVAC, electrical wiring, sprinklers and lighting. It was a battle back and forth with all the trades to try to find ways to get the grid where it is now.” And the LED lighting from Color Kinetics was a big part of the solution, he says.
The studio features three main areas. The anchor desk faces 66th Street. To its side is the weather desk, which faces Columbus Avenue. Each is backed by a large-screen monitor. An interview stage, with three monitors in the background, is in the corner. Its backdrop is the outside street corner. Everything is lit by the LED fixtures.
The set has remote-controlled Ikegami HDL-50 POV cameras, whose robotic heads are controlled via fiber optics from the control room, which remains at its current location in the WABC facility.
“As we laid out the set,” Higgason says, “we pretty much knew what the shots needed to be.” The three Ikegami floor cameras, which are moved infrequently, don’t have robotic pedestals—only robotic heads. A robotic ceiling tracking camera gets a wide shot of the studio.
Higgason says he treated the street as part of the set. On the street are two remote-controlled, weather-proofed cameras for crowd shots. Across the street, in Richard Tucker Park, another camera can get wide shots of the studio. It is linked to the studio via microwave.
In the promotional video, Ritter plays the friendly neighbor. “When you come to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, stop in,” he says. “You can look in and see us and we can look out and see you. We invite you to stop in and say ‘Hi.’ ”
But the openness — like so many Disney attractions — is an illusion. The studio facade serves mostly as a giant billboard for the station. Dropping in not an option. There is nothing to engage the people who stop for a peek inside except the double LED news ticker that runs across the top of wall.
The studio is behind two glass walls, including, on the outside, the bullet-proof type. The double wall, divided by a foot or two of dead space, reduces the outside noise to an acceptable level.
Behind the inside glass wall is a system of three motorized shades that can be dropped to regulate the lighting, block unwanted scenes from the street or keep people from looking in.
“It’s like putting your visor down in the car in a way,” Higgason says. “The screens can also be used to blur brands on trucks or glare from cars on the street…. With any street-side studio you have to understand what you can shoot depends on the time of year, sun angle and all that kind of stuff,” Higgason said. “That’s a major consideration.”
A vending stand on the corner was another problem, but it was quickly solved. The stand is now covered with ads for the station.
WABC would not have built the storefront studio if parent Disney did not already own the building, Davis says. The studio space was once a Walt Disney retail store. After it closed several years ago, it was offices for The Tony Danza Show (a 2005-06 talk show) and the syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
“Also, Lincoln Center has grown and its renovation brought more people to the neighborhood,” he said. “And we now are doing over 40 hours each week of live news programming.”
Only the studio is new. The WABC control room and newsroom stayed where they were. A hallway is now being built between the old studio and the new so personnel will have a direct indoor walk to the new facility. Until it is finished, they have to go outside to the enter the new studio.
Despite that temporary inconvenience, the new studio should make life easier for news staffers. “We also produce Live! with Regis and Kelly and have shared the same studio with them for 25 years,” Davis says. “It has always been an accommodation. After 7 a.m., the news people had to do all their cut-ins from the newsroom. “Live couldn’t tape anything past 11:30 a.m. because of the news shows.
“Regis [Philbin, a co-host] is leaving in November, and we will replace him. They are also going to re-do their studio. So at the time all this just made sense.”
The cost of the new facility “was in the millions of dollars,” Davis said, refusing to give an exact figure.
Street-level studios are quite popular in New York. Each of the broadcast network morning shows, most notably NBC’s Today, have them. But WABC is the first TV station with a storefront and is likely to be the only one for awhile. WNBC and WCBS are currently overhauling their sets, but they will be far above the street and prying eyes.