Looking back

Looking around the new “CBS This Morning” production studio at CBS in New York City, one is reminded of an earlier time, when the network ruled the news business and professional broadcast TV equipment was light-years behind where the technology is today.

The idea for the retro set originated with “CBS This Morning” executive producer Chris Licht, who wanted to remind viewers of the legacy that CBS News had built up while lending integrity to the “new” morning news show. The set is designed with a lot of open space to give producers the option to shoot in different areas and have alternate looks. It also allows camera operators to shoot “in the round,” from different angles. Extensive use of LED highlight lighting also helps set different moods.

Harkening back to the days of Walter Cronkite and even earlier, the production space — designed by JackMorton/PDG — is heavy on history and hard newsgathering. Its welcoming, exposed brick walls frame a collection of historical memorabilia that includes several early TV sets, a reel-to-reel audio recorder and some old ENG cameras — an Ikegami HL-35 and a Sony BVP-300 — on a display shelf along one side. There's also the actual map used by Cronkite during his days as anchor of the “CBS Evening News.”

Yet the Studio 57 set also is quite modern in its accoutrements. The 4050sq-ft set was built inside an existing space owned by CBS, which amounted to a large square box. It features an unusual glass table at the center of the set, featuring a round top with three spokes and a triangular base (with a CBS logo etched in the middle), where the show's three new co-hosts — Erica Hill, Gayle King and Charlie Rose — sit around and discuss events of the day. To one side is a greenroom area, where celebrities and other guests wait (but it's also used for teases and other on-air segments as well) and towards the center in back, a 186in “Magic Wall” display screen.

Virtual guests join the conversation

The set also features an impressive virtual monitor wall on one side that replicates the same multifeed view used by the director in an adjacent, separately located HD control room, known as Control Room 47. Remotely located guests can appear live via satellite feed on eight 46in LCD monitors on set (each of the four columns have two monitors, mounted back to back) that are mounted on a special rig that extends closer to the table during interviews.

Frank Governale, vice president of operations for CBS News, said, “We wanted to show the strength in the worldwide operations and engineering prowess we've had over the years here at CBS. We've pioneered a lot of technologies in the newsgathering and broadcast transmission areas. I wish we could show it all [on set].”

The new studio was repurposed from space formerly used by the CBS.com staff (60 people) as a large newsroom. Seventeen years ago, it was used for a cable TV show. The internal brick walls were uncovered during the renovation. It had a small lighting grid, so fluorescent, LED and incandescent lighting fixtures had to be added, all controlled by a mixture of DMX controllers and dimmers. Extra power had to be added as well, so they installed two services, a UPS system and an emergency lighting service, which both have generator backup in case they lose electricity.

Camera operators literally walk around on set with Sony HDC-1400 cameras: one on a Steadicam, one on a mini-jib arm, three on Vinten Radamec Fusion robotic pedestals and one used handheld style. This gives the show a look that's different from other morning shows.

Shared resources

The show shares Control Room 47 with the “CBS Evening News” and other special events programming. The control room is about 100ft from the new set in an adjacent building and is tied into a centralized rack room inside the new space. This control room was upgraded to full HD functionality in 2008. There are plans to relocate the HD control room at the GM building (where the former “The Early Show” was produced), which will also be tied into the same central rack room.

Governale said the network will not relocate “CBS This Morning” from Control Room 47 if another show needs it, but instead will add the new control room and have the option to use either (or both), depending upon the requirements at that moment. This will allow the network to leverage the new set for major events like election night coverage.

HD swinging

When there are conflicts with two shows, engineers can simply reroute signals and manage a new program out of either of the two rooms. There is an Evertz 80 × 40 routing switcher (within a 576 × 576 frame) dedicated to “swinging” the control rooms and the different stages. If a show in Control Room 47 is going to be used with Studio 57's floor, an engineer simply pushes a salvo button on the router and all of the tie lines and A/V feeds get instantly rerouted to/from Studio 57 and 47's control room.

The existing control room features a Sony MVS-8000G switcher, an Evertz VIP-driven virtual monitor wall, Avid Multi Stream servers, EVS DDR with IPDirector and Vizrt graphics. There are two Calrec audio mixing consoles: an Alpha for the show mix and an Omega for the music mix. The new second control room will be identical in every way.

Letting viewers monitor production

VGA feeds are split out from the actual control room and displayed on a dozen flat-screen monitors (two rows of six 55in Samsung LCD/LED displays) on one side of the new studio. A monitor wall that spans about 20ft is made up of 25 Orion seamless displays (five rows of five, each 42in), and it is fed by a high-powered Vista Systems Spyder video processor. There are eight outputs from the processor, four of which feed that monitor wall. When one monitor image is changed or rescaled in the control room, every image on the wall of the set is refreshed as well. Using this processor, the wall can be broken up into four different sections, as needed.

The other four outputs of the processor feed the flat-panel screens on the set that extrude from poles around the main set table. There are two monitors, one on each side of the posts (back-to-back). They allow the show to bring in virtual guests to join the conversation at the table. Graphics can also be “slid” from one monitor to the next, if a desired effect. The two monitors can also be brought together side-by-side. These monitors are mounted on special rigs that can rotate the panels horizontally or vertically. The CBS Scenic shop fabricated the mechanical arms that allow the screen to extend towards the table and swing around the post.

The set's stunning “Magic Wall” is a Stewart AeroView 70in screen, which is bonded to an acrylic RP screen (15.5ft × 8ft) that is fed by two Panasonic PT-D12000U DLP projectors stitched together. The screen hangs from the ceiling on thin aircraft cables that makes it appear to float in space. (If someone touches it, it starts to sway, so on-air talent has been warned.)

While the set was finished in early January, construction continued on other parts of the surrounding space for several more months. CBS built a networked newsroom behind the new set. Above are new offices and talent accommodations. The newsroom space used to be production studio space owned by Unitel Video (for all of you video industry history buffs). One side of the newsroom has a glass wall facing 57th Street. The newsroom has a raised floor for cabling and dozens of workstations and truss for monitors; there's a monitor everywhere. Two skylights bring in light from above, to provide “a nice light environment where our people can be creative and efficient,” Governale said.

An Associated Press ENPS computer newsroom system is used throughout the News Division, so the new space has continued that tradition. For “CBS This Morning,” the network has implemented MOS control to streamline graphics creation and playout control. Vizrt graphic templates (in Vizrt's Media Engine processor) created within ENPS are used for all lower-thirds and other graphics. An Avid Multi Stream server with Command software is used for playout.

Collaborative digital news production

The construction folks were finished with the newsroom space in mid-February, and the “CBS This Morning” news team was online by the end of March. The original plan was to open up the brick wall and have full access to (and see into) the newsroom. However, the building's age and existing infrastructure made that prohibitively expensive and would have increased the build timeline, which no one wanted to do.

Now that it's finished, Governale said the newsroom is “light-years” ahead of where other CBS newsrooms have been in the past. It is used for “CBS This Morning,” the 4 a.m. “Morning News,” the “Up To The Minute” network newscast and other CBS properties as well. There is GigE connectivity at every desktop, allowing everyone to browse low-resolution clips from across the CBS properties. Programs are edited on Avid NewsCutter and Media Composer editing workstations that work off a large Avid Interplay/ISIS system, which is connected to a Media Archive (and also available to anyone in the newsroom as well as the rest of the company).

Literally dozens of routing switcher panels are located throughout the newsroom so that producers can see anything that comes into and goes out of the building. They can also preview any clip on the IT network, even if it's not on a local server. This networked infrastructure — where fiber-optic cable is everywhere to move HD clips around — fosters collaboration among all of the various creative and engineering teams.

In conjunction with building the new set, the CBS engineering crew also increased the size of its Evertz EQX video routing switcher (to 576 × 576 I/O) that manages the facility. The system's design is such that the router sees all of the equipment (in both control rooms) as one large control room that has two of everything. It's that seamless. The network can begin broadcasting a show from Studio 57 and seamlessly move cameras and intercoms to Studio 57's control room without ever affecting the on-air signal. Viewers will never know the difference.

At the end of the day — or less than four months after CBS initially broke down walls (and relocated CBS.com staffers) — the new studio sets the standard for a state-of-the-art, multipurpose TV studio. Governale said it was the fastest complex build he has ever been involved with, and he's worked on some major projects — like the CBS studios in the GM Building, built in 1999, which took six months and are about the same size and complexity. In this case, management dictated that the show had to be on the air by Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. And — with everyone working in parallel teams and often around the clock — the show was, at exactly 7 a.m. Eastern.

CBS hopes its new program (formerly called “The Early Show”) will one day dominate the highly competitive national morning show category. With the ghost of Walter Cronkite in the room, it's a good bet to take.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.

Design team:

CBS News

Chris Licht, Executive Producer, “CBS This Morning”

Frank Governale, Vice President, News Operations

Robert Klug, Creative Director

Philip Selby, Director Studio Operations

CBS Facilities

Francis Coiro

Gustavo Vazquez


Meridian Design Associates:

Antonio Argibay, Principal

Charles Mallea, Associate

Facility engineers
CSA Group

Richard Thomas, VP Operations

Cornelius Vinatoru, Manager, Electrical

Set Design — JackMorton/PDG

James Fenhagen, Production Design

Larry Hartman, Production Design

Juliann Elliot, Design

Patrick Howe, Set Decorator

Lighting Design — NYC Lights

Deke Hazirijian, lead designer

Kathleen Dobbins, designer

Kevin Fox, CBS Lighting Director

Display and Projection Design

Videofilm Systems:

Dale Cihi

Engineering Design and Install
CBS Engineering

Howell Mette, VP Engineering

John Ferder, Director Studio and Post Production Engineering

William Grieco, Director of Facility Operations

James Valvo, Assoc. Director Operations and Engineering

James Oster, Sr. Project Engineer

Rhina Fernandez, Project Engineer

Kevin Coleman, Director Transmission Engineering

William Lovallo, Director Construction

Technology at work

Associated Press ENPS newsroom computer system

Avid NewsCutter, Media Composer workstations, Multi Stream servers

Autoscript teleprompter

Calrec Alpha, Omega audio consoles

Canon XJ22x7.3BIE-D lens with SS-41-IASD servo control

ETC Ion lighting consoles

Evertz EQX HD routing switcher, MVP multiviewer software

EVS DDR w/IPDirector

Kino Flo LED lights, incandescent lights

Lectrosonics and Phonak wireless IFB

Orion seamless plasma video displays

Panasonic PT-D12000U HD projectors

Sony MVS-8000G HD switcher, HDC-1400 HD cameras

Steadicam rigs

Stanton camera jib

Sennheiser dual true diversity mics, receivers, bodypack transmitters

Telex BTR-800, BTR-80N wireless communications systems

Vinten Radamec Fusion robotic camera pedestals

Vista Systems Spyder video processor

Vizrt graphics platform

On-set museum

To establish the tone for the new “CBS This Morning” program, CBS has populated one wall of the set with a series of shelves displaying a variety of CBS TV memorabilia. The props were researched and acquired by Patrick Howe, through Jack Morton Worldwide.

There are four vintage televisions, four radios and multiple broadcast/recording microphones spanning several decades of the 20th century. The oldest TV is a Pilot brand, which also made radios. It was the first TV to retail for less than $100. It has a 3in screen, and at the time it was recommended that viewers sit 1ft away for every inch of the screen.

The on-set props include:

  • A gold metal RCA TV from the mid-1950s;
  • A Panasonic TV from the 1970s, commonly referred to as a “Flying Saucer” model;
  • A late 1970s Panasonic, color TV with multiple channels;
  • A 1930s cathedral-style radio, a 1940s wood cabinet radio and a 1950s white plastic radio;
  • Ten broadcast microphones from the 1930s through the 1960s. One is the Shure 55 “Fat Boy,” which was popular in the 1950s;
  • An early 1970s Sony hand-held BVP-300 ENG camera and an early '70s Ikegami handheld (HL-35). Both were used extensively by CBS News crews;
  • A 7in reel-to-reel tape recorder, used on remotes for recording interviews;
  • The first control room show timer from the opening of “60 Minutes;”
  • Three professional portable typewriters from the early to late 1950s;
  • A CBS journalist's protective helmet worn while covering the 1968 Democratic convention;
  • Assorted photos, books and memorabilia of other CBS broadcasters, including Edward Murrow, Walter Cronkite and others. There's even a picture of Captain Kangaroo.

Also included on the set is an Oakland Athletics baseball cap, courtesy of Executive Producer Chris Licht, who said he included it to remind the staff of the film “Moneyball.” Licht wants them to strive to be different yet effective, like the film's central character (A's executive Billy Beane) - M.G.