Seeing Stars: The Studio Tours


4401 Sunset Blvd.,
Hollywood, CA. / (323) 953-5530



Update: In April, 2011, KCET sold their historic studio
to the Church of Scientology, for an undisclosed price.

This followed a rather disasterous move on the part of KCET, in which (angry over high fees) they broke off their long-time relationship with PBS and became an independent public station.

In the process, they lost many signature programs, such as "Sesame Street". Ratings & donations reportedly plunged, so the sale was probably in response to pressing financial problems.

I will leave this page up for anyone interested in reading about the tour (or the history of the studio), but bear in mind that it was written years ago, when the studio tour was still being conducted.



You can tour several full-fledged movie studios in the general Hollywood area. Universal Studios Hollywood charges $36 for their tour; Paramount Studios asks $15 per person to tour its venerable back lot, and Warner Brothers Studios charges $30 for their VIP tour.

But longest-continuously-producing movie lot in Hollywood offers the public a behind the scenes guided tour which is absolutely free!

This historic studio was the former home of Monogram Pictures and Allied Artists, and now houses the broadcasting facilities for Los Angeles' own PBS TV station, KCET (Channel 28). They made their first film back in 1912.

Over its 87+ years in existence, this studio was the workplace of such stars as Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Mickey Rooney, Tyrone Power, Edward G. Robinson, Dorothy Lamour, Bela Lugosi, Jackie Cooper, Anthony Quinn, Audrey Hepburn, Shelly Winters, Steve McQueen, Orson Welles, Vincent Price, Gina Lollabrigida, David Janssen, Sammy Davis Jr., Jon Hall, Elvis Presley, Robert Blake and Burt Reynolds.

     

Monogram Pictures was a fairly small studio, as Hollywood studios went, with equally modest goals. Along with Republic Pictures, Monogram was home to the B-Movies of the 1940's, most of which were shot in a hurry, on the cheap.

For the most part, Monogram Pictures made low budget movie series, such as the "Charlie Chan" detective films and the "East Side Kids" and "Bowery Boys" comedies, plus camp horror classics such as "House on Haunted Hill" (with Vincent Price) and "Queen of Outer Space" (with Zsa Zsa Gabor).

Like Republic, Monogram also made B westerns, but without Gene Autry or Roy Rogers. Monogram's cowboy stars were the lesser-known Tim McCoy and Tex Ritter.

But every now and then this studio did produce something with a bit more weight: John Ford shot "Hurricane" here in 1937. Other notable films made on the lot include "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948, with William Bendix), and "Kidnapped! " (1949, with Roddy McDowell). Monogram Pictures eventually evolved into Allied Artists, which produced "Friendly Persuasion" (with Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn) and the original horror classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" in 1956, as well as numerous TV programs.

Charlton Heston starred with Sophia Loren here in scenes from 1961's "El Cid" (although most of the movie was filmed on location in Spain). The last movie the studio released was 1965's "Tickle Me," starring "The King" himself, Elvis Presley. The studio was recently used as a backdrop in the 1992 comedy "L.A. Story," in which Steve Martin played a weatherman at a Los Angeles TV studio.

Since 1970, the place has been home to a television studio, the public TV station KCET, which is famous in its own right. KCET has created such acclaimed PBS series as "Cosmos" (with Carl Sagan) and "Meeting of the Minds" (with Steve Allen), as well as such award winning dramas as "I Never Sang for my Father."

Today, KCET is the home local favorites such as of "Life & Times," "California’s Gold," "Visiting...with Huell Howser" "Adventures from The Book of Virtues," "The Great War," and children's programming such as "Storytime" and"The Puzzle Place." The PBS network has been given birth to exemplary programming such as "Upstairs, Downstairs," "I Claudius" and "The Civil War."

In 2002, Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke worked together together again (at the KCET studio), for the first time since the old "Dick Van Dyke Show". They were making a PBS production of "The Gin Game."

The free, 90-minute guided tours take you through the aging brick buildings of the old movie studio lot (which hasn't changed much since it was built), but most of the tour's focus is on the studio's current television production facilities.

The tour puts a strong emphasis on the technical side of TV production (in fact, it's not uncommon for trade schools to bring their students here on field trips).

On the tour, you'll go behind-the-scenes to see huge barn-like sound stages, giant satellite dishes, and television control rooms alive with TV monitors and control panels with a dizzying number of buttons. You'll get a close-up look at all the elements that make up a television station: TV cameras, lights, teleprompters, sound-mixing rooms, computer character generators, color control panels, tape bays... and you'll even visit the director's booth. Along the way, your tour guide will help explain the way these elements work together to get the final broadcast out to a waiting public. You'll also see the sets for shows like "Life & Times" and the KCET news.

Feel free to ask questions during the tour, the volunteer guides are very helpful.

All of this can get a bit dry at times. Some guides do spend a bit too much time explaining technical details. But this free tour actually shows you more of the behind-the-scenes workings of a studio than either the Paramount tour or NBC in Burbank (both of which charge admission). The tour at KCET may not be as slick as the tour at NBC Studios, but it provides a much more authentic experience, and it's free. As such, the KCET tour is a notable bargain.

This studio may not have the glamour of M-G-M or Paramount, but if you've ever wanted to see the inside of a real Hollywood studio, or wondered just how a TV operation really works - and you'd prefer not to pay a lot for the privilege - this little-known studio tour may be just what you're looking for.

Be sure to call at least two weeks in advance for a reservation, and remember, the tours are usually offered only on Fridays. (Also, be aware that there is an age limit of 10 or older for this tour.)

Parking: Free parking garage on the lot.

Admission Price: Free.

Hours: 90-minute guided tours: Fridays only. Phone for exact times. (Advance phone reservations are required at least two weeks in advance!)

Getting there: KCET Studios is located on the north side of Sunset Boulevard, just east of Hillhurst (between Hillhurst and Hoover). / From from the Hollywood (101) Freeway, take the Sunset Boulevard exit; head east (about two miles) on Sunset Boulevard to just past Hillhurst Avenue (and before Hoover Street), then turn left (north) into the studio lot. Stop at the guard booth and tell the guard that you are there to take the tour. / From Hollywood & Vine, take Vine Street two blocks south to Sunset Boulevard, and turn left (east) on Sunset Boulevard. Go three quarters of a mile to the Hollywood Freeway, then follow the directions above.


[For more information on this subject, you can access KCET's official website at: http://www.kcet.org.]


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