all the commercial TV networks, only NBC Studios in Burbank
offers the public a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of its
The studio tour at NBC isn't free, but it is reasonably priced when compared with the cost of the tours provided by the local motion picture studios. NBC's $8.50 admission charge seems like a bargain compared with the $69 charged by Universal Studios or the $45 charged by nearby Warner Brothers. It also beats the $15 price of the Paramount Studios tour.
The NBC tour is a modest one, though. You'll find no audioanimatronic sharks snapping at your heels here, no 50-foot apes or flying DeLoreans. Unlike Universal, the NBC Studio tour is not a theme park in disguise.
And unlike the Warner Bros tour, there are no mini trams or giant back lots to explore. It's just a 70-minute, indoor walking tour, offering a down-to-earth view of a working television studio.
Their guided studio tour gives you a chance to go where TV history was made; it takes you deep inside the NBC studio. The tour shows you the vast warehouse areas where props are stored, and construction areas where craftsmen are hard at work building realistic sets; it shows you examples of special-effects hardware, and gives you a peek at the NBC wardrobe department. The tour leads you through the studio's labyrinth of hallways, past the makeup department, through the Peacock Store, and out into the parking lot where Jay Leno and other celebrities park their cars. You even get a glimpse of the infamous NBC commissary (made the butt of many jokes by Johnny Carson over the years.)
Then it is up to Studio Three, the set where the "Tonight Show" is taped. (Jay Leno moved the show to this building in 1994, from the historic Studio One where Johnny Carson taped his shows.) There, tour guests get to sit in the same seats as the "Tonight Show" studio audience and see that famous, familiar "Tonight Show" set up-close.
The tour shows you videos about NBC's history, gives you demonstrations of sound-effects machines, and explains how such TV effects as 'chroma key' is brought to life. You might even bump into a minor celebrity along the way. And they accomplish all of this in less than 90 minutes. It's a polished, professional little tour which probably satisfies most tourists' urge for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of some aspect of Hollywood.
The problem is that the NBC tour is just a little too slick. In fact, it's superficial - bordering on condescending.
Tour guests don't actually visit the wardrobe department, for instance, they just walk past it, and look at mannequins in a picture window. Tour guests don't get to see the actual makeup or special-effects departments in action, instead they are merely shown simple display cases filled with related props. The tour guide points to the NBC commissary from afar, but they won't let you actually go inside that well known cafeteria. When they take visitors out to the studio parking lot, they actually expect us to be impressed by the oil stain left by Jay Leno's car.
You get the feeling that someone in charge thinks the tour guests have just fallen off the turnip truck.
When soap opera actress Deidre Hall (from "Days of Our Lives") "accidentally" walks by and waves hello, you're supposed to believe that it was a blissful coincidence.
When they demonstrate the well-known blue-screen process (by making a volunteer "fly" in a Superman cape against a blue background) we are supposed to be dazzled by 20-year-old video technology that in this day of home computers and videocams is old hat to just about everyone taking the tour.
Guests are "treated like tourists" in the worst sense of that term. The well groomed tour guides are friendly and polite, but you are always aware that, as a visitor, you are being kept on a very tight leash. What you see along their short, carefully-orchestrated tour route is what they want you to see - a shallow presentation designed to satisfy the supposedly unsophisticated hordes of tourists with a bare minimum of realism, while keeping them well out of the way of actual studio operations.
Don't come here expecting to explore the secrets of a working TV studio. Most of what they show you is about as spontaneous as a museum display, and the tour group is often simply routed into separate little rooms where they can be amused, but kept safely out from underfoot.
So is the tour worth the price
of admission? Well, the cost ($8.50) is certainly low enough, the tour
is polished & mildly entertaining, and you do get to take a
look inside one of the most famous television studios in Hollywood, however
cursory that look might be. I suppose that just being able to see
the inside of the "Tonight Show" studio (without
standing in line for hours) might be worth the price of admission for many
folks. But at its heart, the tour is a sham... it could be so much better
if only it were more authentic and just a bit more spontaneous.
A word about crowds: I took
the tour at 11 AM on a weekday in late October, and there were about twenty
other people in my casual, relaxed group. But I am told that the tours
gets much more crowded during the peak summer tourist season, especially
on summer weekends when they can sell out early. I suggest you try to visit
during the off-season.
Hours: Tours depart at regular intervals from 9 AM to 1 PM on weekdays (Mon-Fri). Closed on Saturday & Sunday (except during peak summer & holiday seasons, when they are open extended hours and on weekends). Phone ahead to be sure.
Getting there: NBC Studios is located in Burbank, between the Ventura (134) Freeway (on the south), Alameda Avenue (on the north), California Street (on the west), and Bob Hope Drive (on the east). / From the Ventura (134) Freeway east, take the Bob Hope Drive offramp; turn left (north) on Bob Hope Drive (go back under the freeway), then turn left again (west) on Warner Street. (Incidentally, Bob Hope's house is just a few blocks down the street, at 10346 Moorpark Street!)
[For more information on this subject, you can access NBC's official website at: http://www.nbc.com.]
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