“Rachael Ray” is a bona fide syndication hit for King World Productions. And studio landlord, EUE Screen Gems Studios in New York City, couldn't be happier. The show's host Rachael Ray is a seasoned TV chef with several popular shows on the Food Network. However, this new one-hour syndicated series moves Ray out of the kitchen to in front of a live audience. The secret ingredient to this new mix is hidden behind the four-layer Mexican bean dip recipes and trendy fashion tips (both were segments of a recent taping).
The show is taped in a sophisticated 9000sq-ft studio that EUE created specifically for “Rachael Ray” in its 125,000sq-ft four-floor Midtown Manhattan complex.
The Studio 6A space was home to the CBS soap opera “Guiding Light” for 20 years. Once CBS decided to relocate the soap to other facilities in 2005, Mitchell Brill, EUE head of corporate development, took the vacancy as an opportunity to upgrade the studio complex.
By the end of 2005, he and Doug Joseph, chief engineer, began designing a 50,000sq-ft studio and support space dedicated to “Rachael Ray.” The result has been a pleasant surprise for all involved.
No stranger to revolving clients, each with their own individual production requirements, the EUE design team worked with Rich Cervini, vice president of production and technical operations for King World, to make a home for “Rachael Ray.” Timing was critical. In a mere three months — from demolition to first shoot day — the original Studio 6A and its control room were gutted and refitted with all digital equipment, new lighting equipment and a highly innovative, rotating audience platform.
The new control room features a Sony 3.5 M/E DVS-7350 digital video switcher (32 input with 13 aux busses), two Sony DME-5000 DVE units and 64 PatchAmp SDV/HD serial digital video DAs with analog test outputs. For confidence monitoring, there are several 14in and 20in Ikegami CRT monitors with SDI inputs and Leitch VTM-3100 SD LCD-based waveform and vectorscope rasterizers.
The main studio, where the show tapes two — and sometimes three — episodes per day for three days a week, features four distinct staging areas, one in each corner. It's complete with a working elevator for special guests to arrive on camera and a revolving audience seating area in the middle that allows for full 360-degree camera views. This creates a nice on-air ambiance for the show and ensures that the audience is always facing the action, no matter what corner of the studio Ray is performing from.
A variety of large LG LCD screens are mounted throughout the facility. Some are fed by Sony MAV-555 video disks for on-set LCD screen loop feeds that serve as on-camera video wallpaper for the ever changing, creative and colorful sets.
The set was designed by Joe Stewart of Shaffner/Stewart and fabricated by Showman Design, with a lighting design by Alan Blacher that features a variety of fresnels, gels and fluorescent lighting instruments. The challenge was that the audience is sometimes on camera, so all areas of the studio have to be lit all the time.
Meridian Design Associates installed a professional prep kitchen and surrounded it within an audience holding area and talent support space adjacent to the studio. The show's team of 90 production execs, producers, researchers, coordinators, assistants and communications staffers occupy adjacent offices.
On the fourth floor, four editing suites with Avid Adrenaline workstations, (three for show segments and a fourth for on-air promos), along with four Apple G5 workstations, are networked to an Avid ISIS storage array that enables editors to share clips and retrieve elements digitized into the system. Daily roll-ins are handled directly from tape or are ingested into an Avid Thunder server. Six Sony DVW-M2000 Digital Betacam recorders are used for program and ISO record, as well as one DVW-A500 and one MSW-M2000 (IMX) for playback. Graphics are generated with a dual-channel Pinnacle Deko 3000 CG.
Some of the live remote interview segments are conducted through an Apple PowerBook running iChat software. This allows Ray to conduct a two-way A/V dialog via the Internet. These segments are recorded to videotape with a Matrox MXO unit, providing a cost-effective alternative to the traditional remote truck.
Joseph said his mandate was to design and implement a studio and production infrastructure that was serial digital today and could serve as a cost-effective upgrade to HD in the future. King World has tentative plans to move the show to HD sometime after 2008. Because of Joseph's preplanning and current equipment choices, the upgrade will only involve the installation of new HD cameras, a new HD production switcher and an HD-capable router.
This current design includes LCD monitors for distributing multi-image displays throughout the control and production areas. Using four Evertz MVP 12 SD, HD and analog rasterizers feeding four Mitsubishi MDT461S LCD control room screens, the design team has installed a system via Cat 5 wiring for digitizing and distributing groups of images to master control, audio, the tape room and the production bridge. This design also enables all sources to be displayed, including daily tally and naming changes, anywhere in the building. Signals are routed with a Sony HDS-X3700 serial digital router switcher (64 × 64 I/O), which handles serial digital signals with embedded audio.
Two Sony BVP-950 cameras with Canon 11 × 4.5 wide-angle and 16 × 8 zoom lenses are used hand held as well as on Steadicam mounts. Three Sony BVP-900 studio cameras with Canon Super 21 lenses are operated in the studio on Vinten fluid heads and studio pedestals. All cameras are on triax and are controlled with Sony camera control units. Some remote segments are shot in 24p.
The Shuttle, an overhead camera system made by Innovision Optics, offers overhead shots from a curved rail attached to the studio's lighting grid. The camera can be preprogrammed with pan, tilt and zoom capabilities, or operated manually, using a joystick and software interface. There's also a Sony BRC-H700 remote pan, tilt and zoom camera for shots over the kitchen range.
Stereo audio is recorded on a 48-input C100 digital console from Solid State Logic, with multiple ties to an elevated production bridge, where a Yamaha M7CL console is used to drive the speakers in the audience. The SSL board was chosen for its flexibility, which includes the ability to record full surround sound (5.1 channels), and the familiarity it offers to the freelance operators who work on the live-to-tape show.
Numerous HD-compatible DAs from PatchAmp and audio jackfields from ADC support the studio's traditional SD and analog infrastructure. The rotating audience seating platform employs multiple floor-mounted speakers that capture audience reactions and are often incorporated into the overall mix. Sixteen mics positioned directly above the audience are mixed by a Mackie 1604 board as a sub-mix, and then routed into the SSL C100 console. A full complement of Shure diversity UHF-R wireless mic systems provide wireless body pack and handheld mics for Ray, her guests and live audience questions.
The Digiplex concept
Brill said the redesign of the studio for “Rachael Ray” is the first step toward a complete facility upgrade to a fully digital, multitiered environment. EUE Screen Gems Studios designed the building space as a Digiplex for new media, offering the best of traditional production tools and experience for the benefit of emerging media companies like Google and Yahoo, with content destined for the Internet.
Within its midtown facilities, a forward-looking HD and IPTV initiative is currently under way, whereby significant resources are being committed to support new and existing clients. The company has also been one of the few qualified by New York City for a combined 15 percent refundable tax credit for below-the-line production costs. This will help attract clients concerned about rising production costs in New York.
After 30 years of experience in providing facilities for TV, feature film and commercial production companies, EUE was able to handle the quick turnaround for “Rachael Ray” and stay within the limits of a predetermined budget. Talks are under way for an additional two years of “Rachael Ray,” which is a sign that the new studio and support space design has been a success.
Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.
EUE Screen Gems
George and Chris Cooney, studio principals
Thorpe Shuttleworth, executive vice president
Mitchell Brill, head of corporate development
Doug Joseph, chief engineer
Rich Cervini, vice president of production and technical operations
Alan Blacher, lighting design
Joe Stewart, set design
Meridian Design Associates
Technology at work
ADC audio jackfields
Deko 3000 dual-channel CG
ISIS storage array
Thunder MX triple-channel stillstore
11 × 4.5 wide-angle lenses
16 × 8 zoom lenses
Super 21 lenses
Evertz MVP 12 SD/HD/analog rasterizers
8030A audio room speakers
8050A control room speakers
Harris Videotek VTM-3100 waveform rasterizers
Ikegami TM-14-17 14in and TM-20-90 20in CRT monitors with SDI inputs
Innovision Optics Shuttle camera tracking system
LG LCD screens
Mackie 1604 board
Matrox MXO unit
Mitsubishi MDT461S LCD control room monitors
PatchAmp SDV/HD DAs with analog test outputs
Samsung 21in LCD monitors
Wireless microphones with diversity antenna system
UR4D UHF diversity receivers
Solid State Logic C100 digital audio console
BRC-H700 remote pan/tilt/zoom camera
BVP-900 studio cameras
BVP-950 handheld cameras
HDS-X3700 serial digital router
DVS-7350 digital video switcher
DVW-A500 and DVW-M2000 VTRs
MAV-555 video disks
Tektronix CRT-based waveform and vectorscopes
RTS two-channel stations
RadioCom wireless headsets
Yamaha M7CL mixer console