DAVID BIANCULLI

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Location, Location, Location: New York Architecture Gives NBC a Stunning Election Epicenter
November 7, 2012  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment
 

A presidential election is one of the biggest nights for any news organization. But in the age of instant information and short attention spans, setting the stage is as important as reporting the results.

In NBC's case, all they had to do to create a dramatic setting was look out the window at Rockefeller Center Plaza in New York City. There they found a ready-made stage set for election coverage that would be hard to beat.

NBC (along with Microsoft, which probably footed part of the bill), temporarily re-named Rockefeller Center's center plaza "Democracy Plaza." The space that's transformed into an ice skating rink each year became home to an arena-sized electoral map sporting bright red and blue states as they were won.

An NFL-style robo-cam traveled the full length of the 30 Rock plaza that gave dizzying, sweeping views of the entire block which was decked out in flags, video kiosks and billboard-sized electronics. And the 70-story GE Building (formerly the RCA Building) was splashed, full height, in red, white and blue. Starting last week on MSNBC, nighttime views of the statue of Atlas above the rink was back-lit in an electric cobalt blue, setting off the gold of the statue like a Vegas hot spot.

Maybe the only let down in the scenic design here was the outdoor broadcast booth, a glass box set atop the plaza. It was another iconographic design stroke, but a touch too small to compete with the Rockefeller Center majesty. Yesterday's broadcast of MSNBC's Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (below) had the two crammed together with four guests at a small winged desk, which made it look as though they were broadcasting from a news desk in Dayton.

That bit of scale-shift aside, the 30 Rock-NBC brand — one that has been established in the public mind since the network's Today show began broadcasting live at the RCA Building (below right) in 1952 — is virtually impossible for the other networks to match. It has longevity, continuity and sticks in the public mind like no other location in New York.

ABC used the building-sized outdoor billboards at its Good Morning America studio location in Times Square to reveal election results, evoking the scale and importance of the national decision itself. It was perhaps fitting, now that the Disney subsidiary plays to viewers in the remade Disney-fied New York location that was once a hot spot for porno shops, because however shiny Times Square is now, ABC's Times Square location is decades away from having the gravitas of a city landmark. (ABC's main news headquarters, a nondescript, vanilla '80s-style tower located uptown at West 66th Street, has never, and never will, achieve icon status.)

CBS has a similar identity issues. Its 52nd Street "Black Rock" building — tastefully done in black glass and stone in 1965 by late architect Eero Saarinen — is a brand image, but hardly sticks in the public imagination as does the Rockefeller Center location.

Without a dramatic outdoor setting to repurpose, CBS (as well as PBS and CNN) spent the night indoors, in patriotically decorated but downbeat studio set.

In 1978, architect Rem Koolhass set the design community upside down with his landmark book, Delirious New York, a tantalizing psycho-social history of New York development that he subtitled a "retroactive manifesto for Manhattan." It's a remarkable look back at the development of the skyscraper and still a worthwhile read, tracking the story of the New York high-rise like a crime thriller.

In it, Koolhass studies the depression-era construction of Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building as unprecedented building achievements — done for unprecedented sums in unprecedented short construction schedules. He goes into the personal trials endured by Raymond Hood, architect of Rockefeller Center, as well as other Manhattan icons such as Wallace K. Harrison, the eventual architect for the United Nations.

Late in his career, Harrison contributed a block of towers to the Rockefeller Center complex around the corner, two blocks over, on the Avenue of the Americas. Termed the “X, Y, Z” buildings by Koolhass, they are some of the earliest stripped-down modernist skyscrapers in New York, basically tall blank boxes without any of the exuberance and optimism of the art-deco motifs decorating the earlier Rockefeller Center buildings by Hood.

They’re also the current home of News Corporation, and its subsidiary, Fox News. While Fox News has a street-level studio, passersby hardly seem to notice it as they rush behind the set of Fox and Friends each morning, thanks to small, vertical strips of windows Harrison chose to use.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Eileen
The visuals from Rockefeller Center on NBC last night were just stunning. It made watching the returns entertaining when they did outside shots. And the post-election celebration in Times Square was terrific. Very well done and covered.

But I do have a complaint with all three: ABC, CBS & NBC (and others, I'm sure), as those were the 3 stations I switched back & forth during the returns. I know the scroll across the bottom of the screen is necessary to give local voters a sense of the local races, but for some reason last night's scroll was irritating. I don't know if it was the red, white & blue, but it was almost like an optical illusion; at one point I felt like I was going blind. And when they announced that President Obama had been re-elected, I honestly didn't know what direction to look in. The networks need to redesign how these results are shown on the screen; perhaps a split screen with local results to the right/left, and the presidential in the center. Thoughts?
Nov 7, 2012   |  Reply
 
Eileen
Ah! The checkmarks. Have you ever seen anything so maddening? I couldn't tell who was where or what!! Glad I'm not the only one. I
Nov 8, 2012
 
 
EG
Eileen - Speaking of real estate -- the real estate on your TV screen -- is always in contention. With logo's, statistics, news crawls, "bugs" and other devices, it's a noisy place. Given that state of affairs, it's compounded by the choices of graphic design. Also, let five different designers loose on a problem, you'll get five different solutions -- all with flaws. One network had the visual check mark next to the left of the candidate, but that was next to the total vote count of the other, so I constantly had to check -- lighting fast before they went to the next state -- as to who was actually winning, vs. who appeared to be winning. –EG
Nov 8, 2012
 
 
 
 
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