One of TV’s Coolest Places Celebrates a Birthday
“From Television City in Hollywood…”
Those words preceded some of the greatest television shows of all time for decades, and today, CBS’s massive studio complex in Hollywood celebrates its 60th anniversary.
CBS Television City opened its doors officially on November 15, 1952. Since then, it served as the broadcast studio home for stars including Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan (during his West Coast broadcasts), George Burns and Gracie Allen and Carol Burnett.
Shows like All in the Family, Art Linkletter’s House Party, The Jeffersons, Maude, The Mike Douglas Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and even The Twilight Zone shot all or a portion of their episodes in the historic facility.
Back in 1997, when I was working for a CBS station, we traveled there to go behind the scenes on two venerable shows that also call Television City home: The Young and the Restless and The Price is Right. Both have studios that CBS named after prominent figures that made the shows a success: Bob Barker, longtime host of ‘Price,’ and Bill Bell, creator of ‘Y&R.’
During my trip, I was able to meet both men.
I served as field producer during the trip and our anchor was given the chance to be an extra on the soap. While we waited in the production office so she could fill out extensive amounts of paperwork, a well-dressed older gentlemen walked out of the office and into the hallway past us. I recognized him as Bell, a man credited with revolutionizing daytime television with his work in soaps. I made sure I moved to the doorway so that if he returned while we were there, I’d have the chance to say hello.
And I had the chance. Not only that, after greeting him and complimenting him on his work, he granted me a rare privilege: he invited me to his corner office to watch a scene that was about to play over the air on his show. It was a pivotal scene in which one of the characters was wounded during a struggle over a gun. And I sat in Bill Bell’s office with him as it played!
It was the middle of the week, and I remember remarking that it would have been a great scene to have happen on a Friday. He told me that for him, every day had to be Friday.
The following day, we stepped onto the stage at Studio 33, where The Price is Right still tapes, and we met the late Rod Roddy, the announcer of the show at that time, who was in the middle of rehearsal. He was a ham, as you might gather from the nature of the sequined, silk outfits he wore. But he was a nice guy who was only too happy to record a mock “come on down” with my name.
During an interview of one of the models, my favorite one, Janice Pennington, the “Barker’s Beauty” who’d been with the show from its first episode, walked up and joined us just to listen in. At first, it didn’t dawn on me that she was there. But when I realized, I had to introduce myself. After about twenty seconds of chatting about the show, it was as if she and I had known each other for 20 years!
I also met Roger Dobkowitz, one of the producers at that time and to this day, one of the nicest people in the business I’ve ever known. I talked about my longtime enjoyment of the show, and he snuck me back to Barker’s dressing room to meet the king himself. It was nice to meet Barker one-on-one that way, but I definitely had the sense that I was being led through the palace to meet royalty. Barker was said to have ruled with an iron fist on the show; I didn’t get the sense that anyone was particularly afraid of him, but I certainly got the sense that he was revered by everyone backstage.
Before the audience was led in, I stood on the stage on Barker’s mark — the spot where he’d stand during the one-bid segment of the show. It dawned on me that I was standing in the same spot where stars like Benny, Skelton, Elvis Presley and Burnett had stood.
There’s such an incredible amount of history in that building that it was almost impossible to take in all at once.
Congratulations, CBS Television City on 60 years of making magic. I hope there are many more decades to come.