When CNN/US unveiled its new newsroom and studio October 5, the surprise was that this pioneering 24-7 network had jettisoned a hallmark of many round-the-clock operations--fluorescent lighting. "Fluorescents offer a heatless, soft, long-lasting, very-low-maintenance light source," says lighting designer Bob Dickinson, who consulted on the project. "But what they wanted to accomplish here was a richer production environment."
Under designer Rene Lagler's direction, the cramped anchor studio was extended into the fifth-floor airspace of the four-tower CNN Center's atrium. This added 4,600 sq. ft. (414 sq. m) to the now-18,400 sq. ft. (1,656 sq. m) facility, which opened in 1987. Rotating anchor desks provide more flexibility of angle, but what viewers still see is a working newsroom behind the anchors, with a Lagler-designed Duratrans of the Atlanta skyline backing the whole picture. "From a camera perspective, they wanted to be able to pull back and get some more sweeping wide shots than in the past," says Dickinson.
Enter a perceived problem with fluorescents. "I don't think the lights are really functional beyond about 8' (2m)," says the LD. "They're just too difficult to control. My first objective was to gain a high level of control, a lamp that could be barndoored or cut off scenic elements, and to be able to throw that light over a greater distance, so the camera could pull back and get nice wide shots. There was also the perception by some of the on-air talent that fluorescent lighting did not make them look good. All of that together made me feel incandescent was the way to go."
One roadblock: Air conditioning in the facility was not upgraded when the retrofitting for CNN took place. "This is a huge area, and if you're going to do anything theatrically, you have to start doing it in detail, which is very lamp-intensive," says Dickinson. "They installed a big air-conditioning system, and we put in a full, brand-new theatrical-style incandescent package." The Turner Broadcasting System also sprang for a dimming system and StrandCentury controller. The entire investment, including construction and the logistics of moving 150 employees into temporary on-air accommodations, ran to a reported $7 million.
Dickinson's task was complicated enough when it came to providing a flexible lighting plan for the anchors. He also had to create an attractive yet comfortable look in the newsroom environment. "If you shine bright light in the eyes of people who are gathering and writing the news, they just can't function. We hung 70 or so MR-16 striplights in a regular pattern over the newsroom, and we have them on circuits to shift the tonal values to reflect time of day." ETC Source Fours are used in the newsroom to pick out scenic elements.
CNN staff LD Jim Moorman worked closely with Dickinson and knows the ins and outs of the system. "Bob left me with a lot of fixtures, so there's no doubt it's going to have to be maintained and nurtured."
But no matter how much spiffier the studio looks, it will still be familiar to the viewer. Dickinson says, "Our marching orders were, 'We just want to make what we have better; we don't want to reinvent the wheel.' "