Conan O’Brien's long-awaited return to television got off to a flying start, with his Nov. 8 premiere on TBS drawing more than 4 million viewers. And outside of a mysterious crash off-set during an interview with Glee star Lea Michele, everything from a technical standpoint was also a success story on opening night.
Life was good on the tech side, even though the new production facility for Conan had to be designed and built on a tight four-month schedule. But much like O’Brien surpassed many ratings expectations on opening night, the show’s technical team managed to complete the project in October, leaving several weeks for rehearsals and tests before the show’s debut. And yes, that includes that gigantic, movable moon.
NEP Broadcasting built Conan’s production facility outside the soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot where the show is being shot. Key Code Media put together the postproduction facility. Conan’s production company, Conaco, leases the production facility from NEP; Conaco owns the post part of the operation.
“It was amazing seeing this soundstage, which really looked like nothing more than an old barn, transformed on such a tight schedule into a set with all the glitz and glamour of this show,” notes George Hoover, chief technical officer at NEP Broadcasting.
Early in the process, Dave Crivelli, the consulting engineer who oversaw the design and construction of the show’s technical infrastructure, realized that it would be too expensive to build a control room inside the soundstage.
“Dave came up with the innovative solution [of putting the production facility] in modular buildings, what people might call office trailers, located in the parking lot adjacent to the soundstage,” explains Hoover. “It very much speeded things up, because we didn’t have to make everything small enough to fit down hallways.”
NEP wired together complete racks of equipment, and the racks were forklifted through a side of the trailer. All 20 racks of equipment and consoles were installed in just four days.
For the facility and production, Sony supplied a MVS-8000G switcher and cameras. A variety of Canon lenses and some small point-of-view Toshiba cameras are also being used on the production.
The main recording and playout for the show is being done on Grass Valley K2 Summit servers, with a Sony XDCAM deck used for backup. Final Cut Pro is being used for editing, Avid is supplying graphics, Studer Vista 9 consoles are being used for audio and TV Logic and NEC monitors were incorporated into the monitor wall.
Besides the tight schedule, one of the key challenges was running the fiber and cables from the production facility nearly 400 feet to the set inside the soundstage. “We tried to make it as cost-effective, flexible and user-friendly as possible so they could react and change things easily, which is important for shows like Conan,” Crivelli says.
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