Los Angeles is not a place where age is celebrated. The Hollywood sign remains, and the quaint, small-town-y Farmer’s Market and, sure, the Chinese Theatre and Musso and Franks. But this is a city of face lifts, and LA just got its Eye fixed.
CBS Television City Studios, aka the cube behind the tube, is saying goodbye to its last production brands. Once ground zero for many of television’s finest moments, the 25-acre site was sold to Hackman Capital Partners in 2018 for $750 million by CBS Corporation. The media company, now rebranded under the Paramount banner, unloaded other real estate assets around the same time in New York and LA. One by one the famous tenants are gone, with the cast and crew of The Price is Right being among the last to leave.
After 51 seasons in the same location, the final episode of Price taped at the Bob Barker Studio inside CBS Television City will have its primetime airing this Monday, July 10 at 8 p.m. on CBS. That it can also be streamed on Paramount + is another indicator that the TV landscape is changing.
The episode, which aired at the end of June in daytime, features triple values for playing the “Grand Game” among other surprises. Host Drew Carey and announcer George Gray are featured as usual, along with all six of the show’s models.
Viewers probably won’t notice much difference when the series returns next fall for a 52nd season from its new home: a brand new, state-of-the-art facility at Haven Studios in Glendale, Calif.
For this child of television who grew up far from LA, CBS Television City always seemed like sacred ground. Shutting down Fairfax and Beverly is like tearing down Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. It was a destination I heard about way back in Grade School – “From Television City in Hollywood – The Smothers Brothers.” The studio lot was just down the street from the old Charlie Chaplin Studio, later the home of A&M Records and later again, Jim Henson Productions. You could spot CBS stars noshing nearby at Canter’s, the old school neighbourhood deli.
Architecturally, after more than 60 years, the studio still looks contemporary. There’s something timeless about it, like Toronto’s city hall or an Expo ’67 pavilion, right down to the Didot font typeface used on the giant black “CBS” letters displayed high up on the walls.
Shortly after it opened in 1952, the compound was home to such legendary comedians as Red Skelton, who used to park right inside the building, and Jack Benny. In more recent years, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars called Television City home, as did James Corden, Craig Ferguson and Tom Snyder.
Sale of the property, however, is another signal that the era of the big broadcast networks is over. The studio did outlast Leslie Moonves, but not the toxic combination of streaming and edgy shareholders.
I’ve been inside Television City on several occasions. There was a memorable press conference there in 1993 when David Letterman came to CBS. Survivor threw a Tiki torch and tequila party there when the series hit the ten year mark.
Way back in the ‘80s when I was living in LA while working at TV Guide Canada, I managed to get my parents tickets for The Price is Right. They sat in the front row waving copies of that week’s edition of the little magazine which featured long time host Bob Barker on the cover. He walked right over to them at the start of the episode and made a fuss.
Mom still hasn’t forgiven me, however, for getting her a VIP seat that made her ineligible to win a washer/dryer.
Fifteen years ago, I was inside Television City and heading to a taping of Ferguson’s late night show with long-time TCA publicist Cindy Ronzoni. We got off on the wrong floor and ended up on a dimly-lit studio level that was very still and shut down and – with nobody but cleaning staff to say, “Hey, you” — we poked around until we got to Barker’s famed Studio 33. The day-glow primary colour scheme seemed a little faded, but TV nerds that we are, we both felt as if we were tip-toeing around Lourdes after dark.
Even before Barker started handing out Rice-A-Roni, this was the studio not only of Carol Burnett but also of Match Game. (Hence the vague whiff of stale cigarettes and booze in the air. God bless you, Charles Nelson Riley).
We walked right out to centre stage where Barker — still with us at 99 –would ask Johnny Olson and later Rod Roddy to tell contestants to “Come on down!” In front of us were row upon row of red cushioned seats. The place was eerily quiet without tourists in T-shirts hopping and howling. Directly in front, just off the lip of the stage, were the four bidding podiums. Behind us were the giant showcase doors plus the final showcase area.
I wanted to take home the faded maroon and blue-grey CBS curtains, with their pattern of iconic CBS eye logos, but thought that might look a bit conspicuous at the Ferguson taping.
Instead, we genuflected and walked in reverent silence away from Studio 33. Past the cleaning staff, past the giant, spinning wheel, the “Plinko” game and other Price props and set ups.
On the way out, we stopped just long enough to spade and neuter some pets. Barker himself, dressed in white, met us at the gatehouse and waved goodbye, reminding us it was all a dream and not to write about it in any way that might somehow get any CBS publicists or security staffers fired or in deep trouble, especially any that we might need to get into the damn place again some day.
There’s nobody who can get us in anymore. You can buy a lot less for $750 million: two NBA players, for instance. That memory of nosing around Television City after dark — priceless.