Tuned In: WPXI moves to sleek, new digs
A window behind the anchor desk is one of the distinguishing features of WPXI's new set.
The weather center in the new WPXI news studio.
The new Channel 11 newsroom in Ross Township.
WPXI's new Summer Hill facility is visible from I-279.
A view of the Channel 11 newsroom from a second-floor conference room.
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WPXI is about to have the most envied news facility in town.
Many employees have already moved out of Television Hill, Channel 11's home for its first 50 years, and into its pristine, smartly designed new facility, visible from I-279 at the McKnight/Evergreen Road exit.
The station will begin producing its newscasts in the new building on a new set at 6 p.m. Oct. 6, and from that first newscast, Channel 11's local news will be available in high definition over-the-air and on cable.
WTAE's attractive new news set is hulking and muscular, but WPXI's new look is comparatively sleek. It's a simple set with a small, narrow anchor desk in the center (it looks a little like the helm of the Starship Enterprise on "Star Trek"), the weather center to the right is the same relatively new set from the Television Hill studio (with a new high-definition weather system added) and a multi-use space to the left will be used for sports and reporter stand-ups.
The big change is a window behind the main anchor desk that offers a view into the newsroom, which includes a round assignment desk at the center with Pittsburgh landmarks on etched glass behind it.
"We were just looking to distinguish ourselves," said WPXI general manager Ray Carter about the backdrop. "It does give a sense of purpose and energy."
Viewers won't always see the newsroom background; for times when it's less populated, another backdrop comes down in front of the window.
Channel 11 also will use humongous monitors on either side of the window. Weighing in at 550 pounds each and stretching 103-inches diagonally, they are super-monitors, similar to what's behind Ann Curry when she reads headlines on NBC's "Today."
To keep a link to the past, the massive wooden doors from the old studio were installed at the news studio and in a production studio next door.
"You have to have some vestiges of the old," said WPXI general manager Ray Carter during a tour last week, "but it cost two times as much as getting new doors."
Moving the newscast from Television Hill to the new Summer Hill facility requires the movement of 1,000 pieces of equipment, Carter said, which will begin after the 11 p.m. news ends next Friday. To accommodate the move, there will be no local news the morning of Oct. 6, and, for one time only, Channel 11 will air "Weekend Today" instead.
Channel 11's new home was budgeted at $29.7 million, but ended up costing more than $30 million ($14 million for the building, $500,00 to protect wetlands on the property and the rest for equipment). Carter said the facility meets 22 of 26 necessary criteria for environmentally friendly LEED certification, but it would cost another $2 million to be in full compliance.
Why a new building now? The station had outgrown its old facility, which was built in several phases and ended up at 49,000 square feet. The new building contains 69,000 square feet of usable space, including room for additional growth in the master control room (possibly for added channels) and in second-floor offices for general administration, accounting and sales.
The newsroom, engineering, local programming, creative services and marketing are housed on the first floor. Carter said he wanted to keep the newsroom and local programming departments near one another because he sees an opportunity for more integration between the two.
"One of the directions I'd like to take local programming is to more closely associate it with our news department," Carter said. "I think there are opportunities in the course of gathering news to develop stories. We've done a lot of work on the casino issue. Shouldn't we do a prime-time special on that?"
Carter said 75 percent of the new building has a raised floor, allowing for space to run 660 miles of cables and environmental systems that should make heating and cooling the building 25 percent more efficient.
Carter, who previously oversaw the building of a new facility for another Cox station (WSB in Atlanta in 1998), said he learned from the experience. At WSB, he built nice offices for all the news managers.
"I couldn't get the managers out of them," he said. "I didn't want to make that mistake again."
Management at the new WPXI have comfortable offices, but they also have work stations in the middle of the newsroom. Reporters work out of typical newsroom cubicles, although the anchors get a larger space and hutches in "anchor row" with one extra anchor spot because, Carter said, "you never know." Better to have space to grow.
The newsroom also features an "update desk" for live shots, including monitors that show what's on-air and a preview monitor of incoming feeds.
In addition to the news studio adjacent to the newsroom, there's a 50-foot-by-70-foot production studio that will house sets for PCNC programs. The production studio also will be leased out to commercial-makers or even TV or film productions that come to Pittsburgh.
A huge 6,000-gallon diesel generator will enable the station to remain on the air for 72 hours should disaster strike. The new building includes a heated garage for the station's live trucks; a kitchen, lunch room and patio for summer barbecues; and a community room available for use by Summer Hill residents.
More on WPXI's 50th
Following on last weekend's enjoyable 50th anniversary special (kudos to writer-producer Brian Leopold), WPXI also plans a look back at 50 years of news coverage on Channel 11 sometime next month (no date set). The entertainment special re-airs at 10 a.m. today on PCNC and at noon Oct. 7 on WPXI.
The station will also launch a new digital channel, Retro Television Network, on Oct. 15. The channel will carry TV classics including "I Love Lucy" (10 and 10:30 a.m. weekdays), "Little House on the Prairie" (4 p.m. weekdays), "The A-Team" (8 p.m. Saturday) and "The Brady Bunch" (12 and 12:30 p.m. Sunday). Programs from WPXI's archives may also air on RTN. A complete RTN schedule will be available at WPXI.com.
RTN will be carried over-the-air on WPXI digital channel 11.3 and on the digital tiers of Comcast (Channel 207 or Channel 110 for former Adelphia customers) and Armstrong (Channel 410).
WQED shows go HD
WPXI will offer the first high-definition newscast in two weeks, but WQED will begin airing its local shows in HD next week.
"On Q" returns for a new season at 7:30 p.m. Monday in HD with a new set, new opening and new music by Michael Moricz, former music director for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Managing editor Michael Bartley offers a series of reports on air quality in Western Pennsylvania.
"Off Q" has its season premiere in HD at 7:30 p.m. next Friday with new panelist John McIntire. "Black Horizons" will begin airing in HD with its season premiere at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 14.
Upcoming WQED specials, also in HD, include "Bedford Springs: Opening History's Door" (8 p.m. Oct. 11), a Pittsburgh mayoral debate (8 p.m. Nov. 1), a town hall meeting on "Our Region's Next Renaissance" (8 p.m. Nov. 8) and "Pennsylvania's Offbeat Museums with Dave & Dave" (8 p.m. Nov. 15).
'Nashville' already gone
The 2007-08 TV season is not yet a week old, but already we have our first demise: Fox has yanked Friday night reality show "Nashville" in favor of "K-Ville" reruns. Fox claims it's just a pre-emption, but we'll see if "Nashville" ever returns.
AMC has renewed its summer drama "Mad Men" for a second season to air next year. ... Bravo's "Project Runway" returns for a new season at 10 p.m. Nov. 14. ... Cartoon Network's "The Boondocks" returns to Adult Swim for its second season at 11:30 p.m. Oct. 8. ... Bravo will air a marathon of the Emmy-winning "30 Rock" 1-4 p.m. Sunday. The new season kicks off on NBC next Thursday. ... Hilary Silverman, a University of Delaware junior from Squirrel Hill, will appear on Wheel of Fortune's "College Road Trip" in an episode airing Oct. 17. ... KDKA's new morning meteorologist Valerie Abati, a Penn State grad from Conneaut Lake, begins on-air Monday.
This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about PBS's scheduling of "The War," CBS's "Moonlight" and FX's "Damages." Read it online at post-gazette.com/tv.
First Published September 28, 2007 12:00 am