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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
Michele Hunter
Mark Share
Matt Share
Josh Herz

By M.R. Hunter


Ever since the NBC Universal merger in 2004, rumors circulated as to whether or not the only walking television tour at NBC Studios would continue. This popular tour is still going strong, although there is less to see on their studio backlots as NBC slowly transitions into their headquarters in Universal City. While the fate of this walking 70-minute tour is yet unknown, currently it is enjoying a renewed interest with locals and tourists who want to experience this behind-the-scenes look at where and how television is made.

Get up close and personal with some of your favorite TV shows like Jay Leno’s Tonight Show, Access Hollywood or Days of Our Lives with a guided walkthrough of the sets before taping. Depending on what day you visit, (the schedule varies so it’s luck of the draw), some sets will be accessible while others will not, although Jay Leno’s Studio 11 (formerly the home of Ellen’s talk show) is always available and is a longstanding staple of the walking tour.

The tour begins at the Guest Relations building around the corner from the main entrance on California Street. Admission is reasonable, $8.50 for adults (use your AAA club card for a dollar discount) compared to the steep admission to Universal Studios or Warner Brothers, but given the casual attitude of the tour itself, it could easily be lower (say $5) and then you wouldn’t be disappointed.

The tour is not in any way flashy or slick—far from it as the guide’s nonchalance almost makes one feel like cattle led around by a gentle prod. Depending on who you get for your guide (potluck again) the tour can either be mildly entertaining or downright boring.

The hour and ten minute tour really boils down to an actual hour of walking time when you consider the ten-minute NBC Universal video at the start of the tour. The video is nothing spectacular or memorable. It amounts to little more than shameless self-promotion with fast-paced clips from its current TV series and its six divisions: News, Sports, Entertainment, Stations, Networks and Productions. These divisions are represented in the current peacock logo with its six multi-colored plumes (a little tidbit I got from the tour). The video is merely fluff.

While there may not be too many celebrities milling around the backlots, guests will enjoy viewing classic TV memorabilia, sets and props, mainly from The Tonight Show, Days of Our Lives and the cancelled but cult soap favorite Passions. There is a 50/50 chance of seeing Leno from afar, dressed in his typical denim shirt and jeans. If you don’t see Leno, you will have an opportunity to see his parking space with one of his 260 some odd cars (he drives a different car from his Burbank hangar to work every day but eats the same tuna salad sandwich for lunch—one more fun little fact I picked up along the way).

Unfortunately, the tour consists of walking through a lot of dead space, empty corridors and parking lots—not much to see there and absolutely no cameras or taping is allowed. Besides getting a sneak peek of the Tonight Show’s guest band warming up from afar, fans of the show would be better off simply waiting in line for tickets. There are some interesting stories told along the way by the guide such as the Go-Kart bit from The Tonight Show, now cancelled due to insurance concerns and the high cost of replacing one of the cars outfitted with special cameras. The Go-Kart track is still there although no one seems to know what to do with the space.

Much of what you will see on the tour has to do with the sets, wardrobe and the illusion of creating television along with points of historic reference such as the Johnny Carson and Don Rickles cigarette case bit and a surprising story about the I Love Lucy foil in the sound room.

Overall, it is rather lackluster, even for diehard TV buffs, but the tours are generally a sellout with a maximum of 16 in each hourly rotating tour given only on weekdays. It’s as if the heads of NBC said take their money, lead them around and make sure they don’t get in the way. Another disappointment is the NBC Gift Store just closed down last week. So don’t plan to do any souvenir shopping after the tour.

While I can’t give high marks on the NBC Studio Tour, this well-heeled attraction has faithfully served the public for many years and it would be a shame to see it go if for nothing but nostalgia. Sure, it’s corny, creaky, and mind-numbingly dull, but what people don’t realize is that most of TV apart from what we see is just that. From this view, I have to say that the NBC Studio Tour is a little like seeing the man behind the curtain—and wishing we hadn’t. The excitement may not be there but the history, dusty as it is, should continue in what Johnny Carson joked, “Beautiful downtown Burbank.” Uh-huh.

I think Johnny would sum it up best with his famous, “Eww…Bomb-o!”

But for all this, I’d still hate to see it go. It’s something everyone should do just once and never admit to anyone that you did. And if you ask me, I’ll deny it…even though I’m glad I went.

--M.R. Hunter

NBC Studio Tour
Mon – Fri from 9am to 2pm
Tours start on the hour
Cash only

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