ABC and Desperate Housewives unhappy they’re being forced to re-locate, Conan deciding if he wants a new theater in Universal City, replacement of Jay Leno one step closer
By Alex Ben Block
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Today) 8/16/07 – NBC Universal has evicted Eva Longoria and the rest of the Desperate Housewives from historic Stage One at Universal Studios, their home since the show began production in 2004, and moved some operations to another part of the lot, the studio confirmed to Hollywood Today.
Sources said Stage One, once home to the “Jack Benny Show,” may next become the home of “The Tonight Show” starring Jay Leno, and after 2009, Conan O’Brien, although a studio spokesman insists that is still being evaluated. Construction is expected to start by early next year and take at least one and a half years to complete. A studio spokesman said completion depends on getting the necessary permits.
O’Brien was in Los Angeles, Burbank and Universal City on Wednesday, according to sources, discussing the plans with top NBC U brass. The complex is said to include a public area, a spacious state of the art theater, dressing rooms and a four story office complex that would be perfect for the ”Tonight Show” staff, currently cramped into aging space at NBC in Burbank.
Conan, of course is waiting at the door. This could seal the deal for O’Brien to agree to host the franchise late night talk show from the West Coast. “No final decisions have been made,” said a NBC U spokeswoman in a statement issued to Hollywood Today. “A stage at Universal Studios is one option under consideration, but we are still very much in an evaluation stage.”
DH uses seven stages and the Colonial Street set on the Universal back lot for production of DH. However, it was Stage One that was the main facility, and its re-location required some disruption, although it won’t be visible to viewers.
Production on the third season of DH began on Stage One but has now shifted from their longtime and much loved home which was right at the front of the studio (near Lankershim Blvd.). The DH producers grudgingly moved operations to two other stages, including Stage 41, which is bigger than Stage One.
The producers at least initially admit they were not happy about being forced to move a key part of their operations. That’s not a surprise. When a show is a success there is a kind of superstitious belief that it is best not to change certain things.
“We feel that NBC Universal handled this move perfectly,” said a spokesman for DH and ABC Studios in a statement to Hollywood Today. “Our contract allowed for this to happen should Universal have the need. We were notified in a timely manner and all costs were covered by NBC Universal. We have gained a larger stage and as this show is constantly changing and growing the additional space makes construction of swing sets simpler. It is never easy to move permanent sets and therefore there was initial disappointment and hesitancy – but because it was handled so well we are very happy to have made the change.”
Disney’s Touchstone TV rents space on the lot for DH. It also rents additional production space and stages at Universal from NBC U for “Ghost Whisperer” on CBS and ABC’s upcoming “Carpoolers.”
According to the spokeswoman for NBC Universal, Stage One is going to be torn down and completely re-built with a big theater as a place for the public to come, line up and then watch live programs, plus an office building. “The theater will be state of the art and will be available for a wide variety of uses, in addition to the Tonight Show, if it lands there.
Leno is on the move as well. There has been increasing controversy about NBC U’s commitment to replace Leno with O’Brien in 2009, especially since Leno’s ratings on the late night franchise have held up very well. It is likely the building would be done right around the time Leno is to switch out, so it is unclear if he would ever move into the new facility: or if he might be there for a short time before he leaves the job to O’Brien.
NBC U has said as recently as July that they want to keep Leno, so he might get offices there that he would keep as part of some new agreement, if he chooses to stay with the network.
Stage One held many great Universal movies and TV shows. It was constructed in 1961 as one of the first major additions following MCA’s takeover of the studio property. It was specifically built to be the home of the then popular Jack Benny Show, which was produced there until it went off the air in 1965. For many years after, it continued to be known as “The Jack Benny Stage.” The TV show “Knight Rider,” used Stage One, as did the movies “Jurassic Park III,” “Hulk” and “Bruce Almighty.”
Some sources suggest this is the beginning of a plan by NBC U to move all production to Universal City opening the way to re-develop or sell the huge, valuable parcel of land owned in Burbank, which Johnny Carson once mocked from his studio home there. The studio spokeswoman insisted that is not the case and no such decisions have been made.
The studio also recently announced what is called its “Vision” plan to redevelop the land around the studio and theme park, including an entire new residential and commercial area to be known as Universal Village. The NBC U spokesperson said the move of DH is not part of the Vision plan, but rather part of an upgrading of the studio production facilities.