NBC Studios began using Rockefeller Center in New York City for it’s radio broadcasts in the 1930s. This lead to the center being known as Radio City, which is the origin of the Radio City Music Hall name. Since then, NBC has had a longstanding presence in Rockefeller Center. However, when the television industry started to develop, NBC started converting some of it’s studios for television.
The Tour at NBC Studios allows visitors to see the facilities up close. Much like some of the Hollywood tours like Warner Bros, every tour can be different. Depending on the use of different studios, the NBC Pages will try to bring you to studios that you can see up close.
I have attended the tour numerous times, and the format has changed over the years. I will go over the format for the current tour, as I last attended in November, 2019.
Rockefeller Center is a huge facility spread over several buildings, and is home to many businesses. The main, and largest, building is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
When you enter, there is a collection of shops along the main floor and the lower level. Tour Check-In takes place in the NBC Shop, located right by the front entrance.
When you check in at the desk, you’ll be gathered to the side where you fill in your name and email on an ipad (I’ll explain why later). You then sit in a small theatre and watch a video about the history of NBC and Rockefeller Center. After the video, you will need to pass through security, so you should be prepared for that process. Once the group is through, your NBC Page will bring you to the elevators and up to the studios. Let’s look at some of the studios you may visit.
The NBC News Studios are primarily based on the 3rd and 4th floors. There are a variety of studios that are used for the different shows. The NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt currently broadcasts from Studio 3C.
Saturday Night Live
Since it’s debut in 1975, Saturday Night Live has been broadcast from studio 8H. The centre of the studio has the main stage used during the opening monologue and weekend update. Just to the left is the Grand Central stage that the musical performers use. The rest of the studio has sets for various sketches during the show. Sometimes these sets need to be set up quickly during commercial breaks. The audience sits in the upper level, in chairs that used to be in Yankee Stadium. The audience has to watch much of the show on screens due to the way sets are arranged. They say the best seat in the house is watching from home.
If you want to read more about the studio history and one of the camera cranes used, I highly recommend this article from Eyes of a Generation.
I had the chance to be in the audience for a Saturday Night Live special in 2003. You can read about my experience here.
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
When Jimmy Fallon moved The Tonight Show back to New York City in 2014, he chose studio 6B. This is the same studio that was used for The Tonight Show when Jack Paar and Johnny Carson hosted the show from.
Late Night with Seth Meyers
Late Night was originally broadcast from studio 6A with hosts David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Fallon. In 2014 Seth Meyers took over and it moved into studio 8G, which is adjacent to where SNL is housed.
On Air at NBC Studios
The Tour at NBC Studios concludes with an interactive feature, the chance to appear on a talk show and experience the process of putting a show together. On Air at NBC Studios allows members of the group will volunteer to fill the various roles required to produce a late night talk show.
As you enter the studio, you’ll see both the stage and a control room. The Page will ask for volunteers to be the host, guest, announcer, musical band, and work in the control room. Participation is not mandatory, and they have an area for people to sit and watch. That being said, it’s a lot of fun to participate.
Here are some photos of the experience, as well as the video of my appearance as the talk show guest! If you get a chance, I definitely recommend The Tour at NBC Studios. It’s a great tour, and you’ll see some truly historic studios!