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A creative exercise …

Thursday, 23 November, 2006

Of course, I don’t have an authentically creative bone in my body. I can only reapropriate.

Upon moving to Los Angeles in 1938, the newly christened “National Broadcasting System” established their national headquarters in a newly built office park near Sunset Boulevard and Gower Avenue in Hollywood. (on the same site as 6121 W. Sunset Blvd.) This location was in very close proximity to The Addison, an already legendary vaudeville theater and cinema. NBS staffers, including talent, news and even pages and technical personnel were welcomed at The Addison. During the second world war, NBS worked with The Addison for their special programs, including dances, for the troops. NBS talents and technical people offered their services for these programs. Some were broadcast live, especially on Saturday nights.

Starting with a New Year’s Ball 1943 and continuing until the Autumn of 1945, weekly concerts of live music originating from The Addison, were broadcast across the NBS network. A classical program would fill Saturday afternoon, while the evening’s broadcast would consist of “Big Band” numbers.

The association between The Addison and NBS continued after the war with a bi-weekly one-hour program of radio adaptations of films and popular plays known as The Studio Sixty: Theater of the Air. Like so many theaters and cinemas, the coming of television struck The Addison in by the early 1950’s. NBS purchased the now nationally known landmark and converted it into a television broadcast studio. The very first NBS Television broadcast, in 1954, originated from main stage at The Addison, commonly called on the air “Studio 60”. It should be noted that television studios 1 through 6 were in the main complex of NBS and studios 7 through 12 were in formerly leased parts of the Addison complex. Only the main stage of the old Addison took an out-of-sequence name.

1959 saw the television premiere of Studebaker Studio 60: Theater of the Air whose name recalled the well remembered program of the late 40s. This Studio 60 was largely original one-hour plays developed for the medium. Unlike many similar programs of the period, Studio 60 was performed before a live audience. This program was pre-empted for coverage of Kennedy’s assassination and funeral, and did not return.

Unlike many similar programs, Playhouse 90 or General Electric Theater for examples, the entire run of Studebaker Studio 60: Theater of the Air exists today on black-and white videotape. Magnex, partnered with Tokyo Denkikagaku Kogyo of Japan, operated a laboratory in Schenectady, New York in a particularly advantageous position to the transmitter of the NBS-TV affiliated station in Syracuse. Test recordings by a system which aspired to be the first professional cassette-based video unit were made of Studio 60. These were recordings made directly off air, and as such included commercial and station-identification announcements.

The recordings of the first television Studio 60 were discovered following the 1984 death of Francis Hayashi, an assistant engineer for Magnex in the late 1950s. The open-reel three-quarter inch tapes were discovered by his granddaughter, Megan Morris and delivered to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for physical restoration. The playback device was re-engineered and the tapes transferred into digital format, being realized as a special series for public broadcasting in 1990. The series became available on DVD commencing 2004.

April 1964, the complex in which NBS’s corporate headquarters were housed was consumed by fire. The remnants of the company were organized into the offices of owned-and-operated station KNBS in Universal City and within the now underutilized Studio 60 itself. The former office site was developed into a skyscraper which opened in 1970 and NBS was invited to return. NBS established their first color studios at the new building.

The modestly renovated Studio 60 became an archive starting 1971.

Alan Sugarman, recently retired from New Republic Pictures, assumed the presidency of a recently reorganized NBS, now a television-only company, in 1982. Sugarman used his connections within the industry to create a limited line-up of youth-oriented and ultimately popular programs. Among these, two “cutting edge” comedies went to pilot executive-produced by noted comedy writer Wes Mendell, son of former NBS president Jay. However, neither saw air. Over a meal one evening, Sugarman recalled in his biography They’ll Tell You Everything, Mendell remarked his disappointment at NBC’s Saturday Night Live, then entering its ninth season in the Summer of 1985. “All I had to say was, ‘You think you can do better?'”

Initially a handshake deal, Mendell established a production company which eventually renovated the old Addison and updated the production equipment. The network absolutely would not allow the new program to take on SNL directly, but was convinced to air the program twenty-four hours earlier on Friday. The original deal, formalized at NBS’s insistence, would expire in one year with Mendell broadcasting an unspecified program every Friday evening commencing at 11:30 PM eastern, for no more than two hours. Whatever revenue could be raised would go primarily to Mendell’s production company who were renovating the building now formally known as Studio 60 under a rather complicated lease.

Six live specials were broadcast in the Spring and Summer of 1986, under several titles, in the interest of testing the concept. The published schedule for Friday, September 9, 1986 announced a one-hour comedy commencing 11:30 Eastern under the title, Studio 60: Live on the Sunset Strip. Although most affiliates cut away after the break before 12:30, the show continued for another hour. The focus was sketch comedy with a large dose of stand up and two improvisational segments. The musical segments were Suzanne Vega’s first appearance on American network television.

Since 1986, Studio 60 has hosted Studio 60 – Live from the Sunset Strip, now in its twentieth season. Upon the departure of Wes Mendell following the twentieth season premiere, no one attached to the original production remains with the program.

Los Angeles historians regard the attraction of tourists to the area brought by the production of Studio 60 – Live from the Sunset Strip, as the beginning of the renaissance of this historic neighborhood.

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