The Golden Age of Television has returned to New York City, in restaurant form. Television City, which opened in May, has a prime showbiz location (right across the street from Radio City Music Hall) and cuisine more flavorful than what's doled out at Manhattan's other brand-name cafes. The dishes are served up by head chef David Liederman (of David's Cookies fame), who co-owns the restaurant with his brother Bill, the proprietor of New York's first themed watering hole, Mickey Mantle's Restaurant. Early on, the brothers decided that creative lighting would find a place at their table.

Located in the building that houses NBC, and situated where a Lindy's restaurant once resided, Bill Liederman says Television City is a change of channels from the norm. "We entered a competition when the space became available, and Rockefeller Center liked our concept the best, because we fit their motif," Liederman says. "This is the first TV-themed restaurant. But instead of making this the typical themed restaurant with props behind glass and all this stuff along the walls, with the exact same menu and interactivity that doesn't exist, we decided to take a different road."

Like Planet Hollywood, Television City does have celebrity investors; the star-studded lineup includes Regis Philbin, Susan Lucci, Joan Rivers, producer Steven Bochco, and designer Nicole Miller, who fabricated the staff uniforms. However, the fun that accompanies your feast comes not from the slim chance of mingling with the jet set ("It's downright deceitful to lead the public to believe that if they eat in your restaurant you'll meet a big star," Liederman says), but from participating in the TV studio Television City is themed after.

Living up to its promise of making you the "star of the show," the focal point of the two-floor, 250-seat restaurant is the functioning studio set for "Television City Live!," a talk show that offers you the chance to appear on a live TV show. In a separate area on the first floor is a blue-screen room, where you can be a news- or weather-person, delivering broadcasts or forecasts before a variety of Chromakeyed backgrounds. The shows can be viewed from Television City's 144 Mitsubishi monitors, and purchased on videotape for home viewing. The restaurant's other interactive twist is "Vote-A-Vision," an ongoing series of questions which you answer through a pyramid-shaped console on your table; the replies are quickly tabulated and broadcast on the monitors.

Television City, which occupies 10,000 sq. ft. (900 sq. m), also features an in-house bakery and, as you walk in, the inevitable retail store, chock-full of TV-related items. Unifying the space are genuine studio lights and accessories, hung throughout amidst the video monitors and framed pictures of TV personalities on the walls.

Wanting TV lighting arranged with theatrical flair, the Liedermans turned to Mike Baldassari. The lighting designer has credits that include VH1's 8-Track Flashblack, the news segments for the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards show, various Broadway shows, and Garth Brooks' Central Park spectacular, which HBO broadcast in August. Television City marks his first foray into lighting a themed environment. "They wanted someone who had a feel for a lot of different things, and although I hadn't done any architecture before, they were confident that I could handle it," Baldassari says. "This was a crossover project for me, the kind I enjoy doing, and I just jumped right into it."

Baldassari recalls that his first consideration when he accepted the assignment last August "was making sure that the lighting met code, which we never think about in theatre or TV because it's all so temporary." His next task was collaborating with "the electrical engineers, and the people who were doing everything from the refrigeration and air conditioning to the soda machines." The architects at Tobin/Parnes Design Enterprises, who created the space, were also consulted.

The LD also tuned in to what theatrical installer and production electrician Josh Weitzman, of New York's Stageright Inc., had to say. "He is brilliant at interfacing with trade unions and getting equipment installed the right way," Baldassari says. The LD has equally high regard for the staff of Mount Vernon, NY-based Four Star Lighting, particularly Darren DeVerna and Lee Iwanski, "who provided so much help with the research and development."

Baldassari's lighting concept relies mostly on old and obsolete gear that immediately says "TV studio" to diners, outfitted and arranged for a classy, timeless presentation. Because these units, drawn from companies including Altman Stage Lighting, Strand Lighting, and the now-closed Kliegl Bros., threw off tremendous heat in their day, they had to be retrofitted for patron comfort. "Lee, who's in charge of Four Star's units, took these old Altmans and Strands and ripped their guts out--everything is gone from the inside. These were relics, some at least 50 years old, that Four Star had in their shop but were no longer in circulation. The way it worked out, we were able to use equipment only Four Star had, and we were able to stretch our budget by using it."

While this equipment will no longer be able to transform you into a TV star, some of it will help you see the soft-shell crab on focaccia or ice cream cookie sandwich you're eating. "Four Star turned 1,000W units into 75W ones. The workhorse units are the Altman die-cast fresnels, retrofitted with 75W MR-16s," Baldassari says. "We also have scattered around the restaurant units that have 25W A-lamps in them--they're just there to put dots of color in the air, as no light really comes out of them." Baldassari's hands-on relationship with Four Star kept the project on its fast track. "I'm not afraid to go to the shop," he says. "They'd call up and say 'we're thinking about something' and I'd go up there and take a look at it, and help with any adjustments that had to be made."

Two areas, the interview set and the blue-screen room, do use TV-quality lighting; with the latter, Baldassari helped the planners figure out the best way to showcase the blue-screen effect for the audience. "We didn't do any retrofitting in these areas, but we did lamp them down, from 1,000W to 500W," Baldassari says. "But I had to take into consideration the cameras, how the images would look on the monitor, and what the videotapes would look like."

One potential pitfall was pointed out by an old hand at such things. "Regis Philbin came up to me one day and said, 'What are you going to do when these people don't come in with makeup?' I'd been thinking just that same thing, but he brought it home for me. We were able to get a proper level by adjusting the key light in those areas with Roscolux 05."

Television City employs a technical maintenance crewmember, Eric Halpin, to look after the gear. "One reason I was able to use real television lighting in the venues was because I knew it wasn't going to be the busboy who was going to be looking after the bulbs," Baldassari says.

Television City's studio look is accomplished on a grid system Baldassari took pains to plan. "My very first thought when I saw the space was that I needed ceiling plans fast, as the first-floor ceiling is 14' high [4.3m]--which gets lower pretty fast as you add in grids and the complicated Finland-made air-conditioning system Television City uses," Baldassari says. "I wanted to use the grids, which zig-zag and have an erector-set look about them, so lights could be put anywhere; the floor space is very limited with all the tables, and you need to be able to move lights efficiently to punch the people on the sets out of the backgrounds. And we were eventually able to hang the lights creatively and make them look like something, even with the low ceiling."

The piece de resistance of Television City's lighting scheme is the staircase "chandelier," suspended from the second-floor ceiling and into the first-floor entryway, a Pop Art sculpture of "big TV lighting equipment and other goofball TV stuff," Baldassari says. "I didn't just want to use simple instruments in the themed lighting, but because of the space there was nowhere else I could use a 10k fresnel with a 500W lamp. I mixed in a lot of different TV units for the chandelier, including the pantographs, which were so difficult to locate--nobody makes them anymore. But I had to have them, as they are quintessential TV gear, and Lee located some from an Italian source."

The LD strove for a playful authenticity in his work. Customized light boxes reading "Applause" and "On the Air," flashed at appropriate times, add to the cathode-ray atmosphere. The Television City logo is stenciled onto the four-way barndoors on all the fresnels, which, along with customized Rosco gobos, reinforce the restaurant's brand image in a humorous way. While the prospect of sitting down to a meal before 144 TV monitors may seem Orwellian, the sets and lighting equipment have been "layered," Baldassari says, "to be partially obscured, as they are in a real TV studio." Viewer/diners take full notice of them only when their attention is drawn by something happening in one of the venue spaces; otherwise, the sets scroll menus and footage edited from TV programs.

Baldassari's lighting package incorporates several ETC Source Fours, a mainstay of themed projects. The lighting control for Television City also hails from Electronic Theatre Controls, with the efforts of the company's Northeast US branch receiving praise from Baldassari. "There was a limited amount of power available, and our 1,800W is the maximum that New York City allows for a dimmer," Baldassari says. "But the digital rack is partitioned and there are five control systems: one on the second floor so the manager there can set levels, and one apiece for the main floor lighting, the retail area and the entryway, the lighting for the interview sets, and the blue-screen room. The face panels have been customized, so waiters, for example, can easily hit an 'Applause' button that activates the 'Applause' sign after a party on the second floor (which can be more of a private space) sings 'Happy Birthday.' "

Satisfied with Television City's reception in New York, the Liedermans hope for reruns across the country, with plans for a nationwide rollout under discussion. Baldassari, who has added a new field of lighting to his repertoire with this project, thinks this is one show with outstanding ratings potential: "The lighting supports the idea that you've entered a TV studio, you're being let into a place you've been kept out of, and you're going behind the scenes of this powerful medium."

OWNERS Bill and David Liederman

ARCHITECT Tobin/Parnes Design Enterprises Robert Parnes, AIA

LIGHTING DESIGNER Mike Baldassari

EQUIPMENT VENDOR Four Star Lighting/Darren DeVerna, Lee Iwanski

THEATRICAL INSTALLER/PRODUCTION ELECTRICIAN Stageright Inc./Josh Weitzman

RESTAURANT LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (6) ETC 36-degree Source Fours (36) Altman 6" die-cast fresnels with retrofit (25) Altman 6" fresnels with retrofit (25) Strand 8" crank-style fresnels with retrofit (10) Strand 8" crank-style fresnels with 25W A-lamps (10) Strand 8" "old-style" fresnels with 25W A-lamps (10) Kliegl 8" "old-style" fresnels with 25W A-lamps (33) 10" Altman Wizard scoops with 100W A-21 lamps (4) custom "On the Air" lightboxes (9) custom "Applause" lightboxes (2) Red rotating beacons with C-clamp

VENUE LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (2) Altman 6" 500W die-cast fresnels (4) Altman 5" 1kW fresnels (6) Altman 5" 750W fresnels (3) Mole-Richardson 2k "Zip" Softlites with 750W lamps (1) ETC 26-degree Source Four (2) Four Star 6-cell T-3 striplights with 300W EHZ frosted lamps

NON-FUNCTIONAL EQUIPMENT (5) Radial 6X ellipsoidal reflectors (5) 18" scoops (5) beam projectors

STAIRCASE "CHANDELIER" LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (1) 10k fresnel with 500W lamp (1) Mole-Richardson 2k Super Soft 300W EHZ with eggcrate (2) 18" scoops with 75W A-lamps (2) Kliegl 10" 2k fresnels with 75W A-lamp retrofits (1) 9-light with Philips130 75W NFL PAR-36 120V lamps (2) Strand 8" crank-style fresnels with 25W A-lamp retrofits (2) beam projectors with 250W lamps (1) Mole-Richardson 2k "Zip" Softlite 300W frosted lamp EHZ with eggcrate (1) Altman 6" die-cast fresnel with 25W A-lamp retrofit

ACCESSORIES Four-way barndoors for all fresnels with "TV City" logo stencil (15) Industria Fototecnica Firenze studio friction pantographs (2) Matthews 5'-10' telescopic hangers with stirrups (4) Matthews 4'-8' telescopic hangers with stirrups (6) Black cloth flags(18"x24") with Avenger grip (6) 40" gobo arms with gobo heads and Avenger grip (6) Studded C-clamps and gripheads with Avenger grip (6) Rosco custom glass silkscreen gobos

LIGHTING CONTROL (1) ETC Digital Address architectural lighting system, with five custom control stations and 36 1.8kW dimmers, ETC Sensor rack