Fox News Takes Wraps Off Multi-Million Dollar Streetside Studio

By Chris Ariens Comment

Jutting out toward Sixth Avenue in the 1973 skyscraper 1211 Avenue of the Americas is the newest and glitziest addition to Midtown Manhattan. After a year-long transformation, a former Charles Schwab branch and FedEx Kinkos store has become Fox News Channel’s Studio F.

And Tuesday night, millions of TV viewers will see what it can do.

Planning for the space, which has been vacant since 2012, began last fall. And even with the tumult inside Fox News—a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former anchor Gretchen Carlson which led to the stunning resignation of network co-founder and CEO Roger Ailes—construction continued unabated with an election-night deadline looming.

“The thing about what happened this summer,” said 20-year Fox News veteran Jay Wallace, now evp of news, “We really didn’t have an option to stop. The core group of us, we couldn’t stop.”

With a cost “in the high $20 millions,” according to Warren Vandeveer, svp of engineering and operations, the two-story studio includes three lucite-topped anchor desks, complete with USB ports, a movable 14-foot diameter 360-degree video chandelier, a 9-monitor cascading video wall, a circular LED floor, a news ticker and two massive LED video walls, one for each floor.

The studio will also include a glass elevator, with an LED ceiling, mostly for hauling equipment to the second floor, “but for people too,” said Vandeveer, who admits the biggest challenge of the entire project was “the moving pieces in the ceiling.”

“Whenever you drive different canvasses graphically, you come up with different challenges,” he said. Streetside Studio F has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, which can go from clear to opaque with the flip of a switch.

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In the highlight of its 2012 election-night coverage, anchor Megyn Kelly took a long walk from the studio to the decision desk, to confirm what polls were showing: that, despite Karl Rove’s protestations, Barack Obama was headed for re-election.

If there is to be a walk this year, it’ll only be about 20 feet as Fox has set up its decision desk and exit polling just outside the studio’s glass doors.

Kelly and Bret Baier will once again anchor Fox’s coverage. Kelly, with a memoir coming out next week, is also in contract negotiations about her TV future.

Wallace calls Kelly “vastly important” to the post-Ailes Fox. “Megyn’s a team player. She’s a star and she’s a news person at heart,” he said. “Megyn is the center news piece, along with Bret and Shep [Smith.]”

More than 11 million viewers watched Fox News’ prime-time coverage on election night in 2012, the most on cable. The channel is banking on millions more this election night. In fact, it’s poised to have its most-watched year ever. The big three news nets have all benefited from the Clinton-Trump race. In October, Fox was the most-watched basic cable network, CNN was No. 1 for the first time in 15 years among younger viewers, and MSNBC had its most-watched month ever in its 20-year history. Fox, too, has been breaking records. 24 million watched the first GOP primary debate in August 2015, its most-watched show ever. It had the lion’s share of viewers (11.3 million) among all TV networks for the final presidential debate last month, which was moderated by its own Chris Wallace.

The channel is poised to break revenue records, too, with an estimated $2.62 billion in 2016 revenue.

When the election draws to a close, the thousands of lights in Studio F will go dark as executives decide which programs will move in, likely in the new year. And there’s been no shortage of jockeying.

“All kinds of producers and talent have been asking if they can get in here,” said Wallace. “We’ve really just pushed back in every way, shape and form to not even start thinking about that.”

For now, it’s all about election night, the cap of a record, yet turbulent year for the 20-year-old news channel.

“The good thing about this place,” said Wallace, “is we all pull together for the sake of Fox News.”

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Photos: Karin Kohlberg / This story first appeared as the Spaces column in the Nov. 7, 2016 issue of Adweek.

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