Madeleine Brand on the 'SoCal Connected' set, which uses green-screen technology.
I went over to KCET's new studios in Burbank last week to catch the first day of run throughs for the made-over "So Cal Connected," which launches Monday evening at 7 p.m. as a daily, news-driven show. It will be the station's first regularly scheduled local news broadcast since KCET broke away from the PBS network. 'Connected' won't air live, at least initially, though executive producer Bret Marcus told me they have the set-up to go live when news calls for it. There is plenty of live TV experience in the room, including Marcus, who came to KCET from NBC News in 2006. For 16 years before that, of course, KCET aired "Life and Times" from the longtime studios on Sunset Boulevard.
The station is now in all-new facilities on two floors of The Pointe office tower in Burbank, within sight of Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" studio across Bob Hope Drive at NBC. (The view includes the ABC Riverside building.) The new iteration of SoCal Connected will be anchored by Val Zavala, as before, with a new face to KCET: Madeleine Brand, in her first new gig since leaving her hosting seat in the mornings at KPCC last month. At KCET, Marcus says Brand will be billed as a special contributor and mostly handle an interview segment. On Monday's debut show she is expected to talk to Gov. Jerry Brown as part of the show's coverage of Proposition 30.
The first week's lineup is heavy with political coverage, as you might assume. On Monday's opener, there's supposed to be a piece by reporter Vince Gonzales on the budget mess at California's community colleges. (As well as an amusing piece with an editor of The Onion.) Gonzales returns Tuesday with a story on Super Pacs; LA Times columnist Steve Lopez will be on the show. Proposition 37 is up Wednesday with a studio appearance by Variety's politics blogger, Ted Johnson.
Look for a summary of the day's big news at the top of each night's show, and a lead story, with the latter part of the 26 minutes devoted to the kind of long-form reporting that "SoCal Connected" featured when the show was weekly and only on part of the year. Those longer stories have won "SoCal Connected" a bunch of awards — 17 Emmys, 19 Golden Mikes and 41 LA Press Club awards among them. The challenge will be to keep the stories coming all week and all year.
At the run through I saw, the producers were still working on timing of the segments — the show will have three separate news blocks — and were tweaking the show's look. One of the benefits of getting out of the old Sunset Boulevard studios is that all the equipment is new and up-to-date. The studio for "SoCal Connected," for example, uses robotic high-def cameras that move on rails. While it will appear on TV as if Zavala and Brand are sitting on a physical set, like on the other newscasts in town, the anchors will actually be on chairs in front of a green screen. The "set" will be slipped in digitally, kind of like the way the weather maps are projected on LA's local news shows. I'm told the lack of a physical set frees up the studio for other uses, and also gives the producers some flexibility of backgrounds. But they still had to pay a designer to create the digital "set."
There is a second studio on the main floor as well as a couple of control rooms, a small "flash studio" for going on the air with news bulletins, and all-new editing rooms and sound booths. There's also a newsroom for the station's growing website and creative staff, which produces Departures, ArtBound and most weeks a pretty interesting mix of blog entries and other web content. Recent example: Erin Aubry Kaplan critiquing the news coverage of the space shuttle Endeavour move across South Los Angeles and Inglewood. The suits sit upstairs over the studios, but there are windows so staffers on the management floor can look down into the studios at any time — and vice-versa. If you ever see Brand's or Zavala's eyes dart up to the corner of the room, it could be because they got distracted by someone passing by.
"SoCal Connected" will air weeknights at 7 p.m. with a rebroadcast at 10:30 p.m. Brand, by the way, is tweeting now at TheMadBrand.
Here a few other pics from the new KCET.
LA Observed photos except the handout of Zavala and Brand