"Oooooooo, eeeeeee, what up with that, what up with that?" The cast of the faux Saturday Night Live variety show "What Up With That?" could have sung about the sometimes schizoid environmental actions of their parent company, General Electric (true, NBC Universal is now 51% owned by Cable Town, er Comcast). While one arm of GE was making wind turbines the other was spending years trying to avoid cleaning up two million tons of highly toxic PCB pollution from the Hudson River. While the company hired Andrew Shapiro's GreenOrder to help with their Ecomagination advertising campaign, they had sat on Ed Hammer's innovative design for the CFL, agreeing to make the energy-saving bulbs only after the design had been leaked and copied.
But none of this uneven past was on display at a recent tour for green bloggers at NBC Studios in historic Rockefeller Center. NBC is in show business, and they put out the green carpet for us bloggers, with a delicious press brunch in their little cafe above the NBC Experience Store, complete with Microsoft Surface displays. The tour was great fun, and was a fascinating look at how expensive and lavishly produced Old Media still can be. In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that the brunch budget for the tour was probably more than the monthly content budgets of most of the sites in attendance. It costs a few million dollars an hour to produce top-of-the-line network programs, which increasingly must compete with webcam and cat trick YouTube videos.
The future of professional content, and elaborate studios, is uncertain, but at least it's good to know that people are working behind the scenes to decrease the environmental impact (as is Lauren Selman of Reel Green Media, a 2010 Heart of Green Award nominee). Throughout the tour, we saw many examples of super-efficient LED lighting, which was especially exciting for me, since I'm working on a book on the subject. The pages (no, not Kenneth the Page) explained that LED panel and accent lighting on the sets can be finely adjusted to set different moods, and to mimic different times of the day. A number of the bright spots were LED as well, as were display monitors. The LED strips in the newsroom? If they're red, that means breaking news. Purple is evening, and blue is daytime (most of the guts of the operation take place deep in "30 Rock," and windows you see on your TV are actually monitors showing video streams from outside).
The pages said the center instituted a "last one out policy," meaning he or she who leaves last flips off the lights and equipment. They got rid of water bottles and single-use cups, asking everyone to reuse, which cut their trash haul. The 1,200-person NBC Olympics crew (again, expensive operation!) takes a number of special efforts to minimize impact, including extensive ride sharing and reusable utensils (NBC's Olympic contract continues through the 2012 games).
The NBC Universal green team is clearly proud of their efforts, and they are more than happy to share what they've learned with others in the biz, posting tips and case studies on their website. The pages explained that all the sets are recyclable, and most are made to be easy to break down, since they are largely stored in Brooklyn, where space is cheaper. They use FSC-certified wood products, recycled paper and low-VOC paints "when possible."
Perhaps most interesting was a look at the studio for Jimmy Fallon's show, which was introduced as "our first green studio." The flooring was bamboo, and the desk Fallon sits at was reportedly salvaged from the home of a prop director. The doors and other hardware were also salvaged, and the rug was made from recycled plastic bottles. The plush red seats were refurbished cast-offs from the historic Radio City Music Hall. The lighting is LED, which also helps keep it cooler.
Jimmy Fallon himself came out to greet us for a few minutes, and immediately had us in stitches. "We like recycling and reusing stuff. It's fun," said Fallon. "We have the Specials on tonight, how exciting is that?" he added. "And that's a band from the 80s, so we really are recycling."
Fallon pointed out that the studios no longer use tape, which saves resources, since everything is done digitally. He also explained that he turned his lights off briefly on the show -- hijinx ensued -- and tells viewers to turn their lights off to save energy.
Fallon also busted out with a hilarious eco-jam, sung to Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back," a veritable ode to recycling. This especially impressed the female bloggers in attendance.
It was also interesting to learn that Lorne Michaels, creator of SNL, insists that all his actors be recognizable in the characters they play. So, for example, when Eddie Murphy played Gumby, viewers could still see his face. "This is so people can see who is making them laugh," explained our guide. Also, the reason entertainment writers speak of "green screens" instead of the former "blue screens," is because the industry switched, after too many people had scenes reflected in their blue eyes.
Don't forget to tune into NBC all this week, to see various green jokes and tips across the programming spectrum. If we can't laugh at ourselves, there's definitely something wrong.
By the way, one of the pages admitted that, yes, the most common question he gets while leading tours is, "Where is Kenneth the Page?" "Oooooooo, eeeeeee, what up with that, what up with that?"
Check out this video made by NBC to highlight their Earth Week hijinx:
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