FishbowlLA Set Visit: SoCal Connected

The views from the fifth and sixth floors of KCET’s glass-encased offices at The Pointe in Burbank are spectacular, offering panoramic vistas of next-door neighbors NBC LA, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Forest Lawn in the southern distance and more. Another big difference from the station’s previous red-brick HQ on Sunset Boulevard is that employees are now ensconced in an open-cubicle set-up as sleek as that of a Madison Avenue ad agency.

But these are not the only reasons for the renewed sense of excitement at KCET. Thanks to the expansion of SoCal Connected to four nights a week, the addition of Madeleine Brand to the show’s talent ranks, a recent merger with San Francisco’s Link Media and the resulting imminent arrival of new chief strategy officer Paul Mason, this viewer-supported TV station is very clearly and boldly trying to re-invent the jettisoned PBS model.

SoCal Connected shoots two shows on Monday and another two on Wednesday, with a repeat broadcast Fridays. As FishbowlLA sat at the back of the control room yesterday watching the production of tonight’s November 29 broadcast, we were reminded of that scene in Broadcast News where William Hurt’s character shows nervous newbie Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) how to properly sit on a sports jacket. TV news is all about the smallest of details.

For her intro to a piece about the Supreme Court’s imminent course of action on Proposition 8, host Val Zavala had to do a second take because she accidentally said “at the footsteps of…” instead of “at the footstep…” Meanwhile, when Brand sat down with Automobile magazine editor Jamie Kitman (pictured, below) to talk about the tier of cars at the 2012 LA Auto Show aiming for the wallets of one percenters, she noted that she proudly drives a “proletariat class” VW. Ha ha, those are exactly the kinds of references that make Brand such a compelling radio and now TV personality.

During the recording of that same Auto Show segment, director Mike Corey was having a good time in the control room joking with executive producers Bret Marcus and Rebecca Haggerty about his own plans to purchase a $200,000-plus vehicle. Meanwhile, Marcus rightly noted after Zavala’s Prop 8 interview segment that Loyola Marymount associate professor Doug NeJaime was “great.” Indeed – in TV, it’s absolute gold when you can find a subject matter expert who also comes across so well.

Even though KCET now finds itself in a highrise, the second and larger of its two green-screen studios spans the full height of the two floors. Cleverly, there are a couple of sound-proof glass vantage points into that expanse from above, where people can sit and watch both in-house and other for-rent activities such as a recent Armenian telethon.

SoCal Connected has garnered 17 Emmys, 19 Golden Mikes, the Peabody, the duPont-Columbia and other prizes. As we chatted with Zavala in the make-up room ahead of this week’s show #4 taping, it was evident that she too is energized by the majestic new facilities. A great TV newsmagazine now has an even greater home, and with Brand providing the extra pizzazz, there’s no telling where that CSO may be able to take the program in 2013. Stay tuned.