The curtain may be closing on one of Hollywood's most storied production studios — CBS Television City — where such legendary entertainers as Jack Benny, Judy Garland and the cast of "All in the Family" performed for millions of viewers.
Broadcast giant CBS Corp. is pondering the sale of its historic studio complex in the Fairfax district, once known for its state-of-the-art television production, as the Los Angeles construction boom propels developers in search of new places to build.
CBS has not decided whether to part with the property it has owned since the early 1950s, but real estate brokers put a tempting value on it for the owners: $500 million to $750 million.
Its desirable location near Farmers Market and the popular Grove shopping center could help drive the price even higher if a bidding war erupts. One insider estimated that the 25-acre complex could fetch more than $900 million.
Television City has played an important role in CBS' history — and in American pop culture. The broadcasting company decided in 1950 to relocate much of its entertainment operations to Los Angeles from New York. Its move west helped establish an enduring part of Los Angeles' identity and its economy: television production.
CBS purchased the property at Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard in 1950. CBS needed more space — facilities that could accommodate live production and studio audiences — than its Columbia Square complex on Sunset Boulevard could provide. So it spent a reported $7 million to build the futuristic complex with its mid-century design by noted architect William Pereira.
"Television City represents the pinnacle of high production standards in television," said Jim Shea, a video editor for the NBC-owned television station in Boston, WBTS. "The site ought to be declared a national historic landmark because of the number of legendary programs that emanated from that facility and the people who passed through its doors — it's a who's who of luminaries in television."
But now CBS' primary studio space, where about half a dozen shows are produced, is its lot on Radford Avenue in Studio City. In 2008, CBS moved its West Coast entertainment operations "over the hill" to the bulked-up CBS Studio Center, where CBS Entertainment, CBS Television Studios and other corporate offices of the New York company are situated.
Although some executive offices remain at Television City, CBS' biggest business at the complex is that of landlord, leasing seven of its eight soundstages and other studio space to third parties. Currently, ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher," the CBS soap operas "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful" are shot there. Soon, ABC's high-profile reboot of "American Idol" will join the lineup. The game show "The Price Is Right" has been shot on the same soundstage — Stage 33 — since 1972.
Only one program owned by CBS, "The Late, Late Show With James Corden," shoots at Television City, which could be part of the network's calculus in considering a sale.
The process of marketing the property began after CBS received unsolicited offers for Television City, according to a person familiar with the discussions who was not authorized to discuss them. CBS then hired real estate brokerage Eastdil Secured to manage the fact-finding process, according to several people, including brokers, who know about the potential offering.
The review is in the early stages, and CBS has made no decision whether to sell the property, these people said.
Eastdil did not respond to a request for comment.
The 25-acre complex is ripe with possibilities even if it continues to operate as a television production facility. One prospective buyer is said to be interested in retaining the TV production operations, one of the sources said. Television City has acres of surface parking lots that could be turned into stores, offices and underground parking or multilevel garages, if city officials approved.
City Councilman David Ryu, who represents the Fairfax area, offered tacit support for improvements to Television City.
"The sale of this property could bring more opportunity to hard-working Angelenos," Ryu's spokesman, Estevan Montemayor, said in a statement.
The site offers "a unique opportunity for creative and exciting ideas in a corridor currently experiencing a renaissance," he said, citing the Purple Line subway expansion and the construction of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' $388-million museum taking place nearby.
Other historic Hollywood studios offer a template for development at Television City.
Los Angeles landlord Hudson Pacific Properties Inc. owns three studios that date from the early era of filmmaking. It has kept operating them as production facilities while adding new development such as a recently completed 14-story office building that it leased to Netflix on its Sunset Bronson Studios lot.
Columbia Square, the former CBS radio and television broadcasting center on Sunset Boulevard that dates from the 1930s, has been redeveloped by Los Angeles developer Kilroy Realty Corp. into a high-rise residential, office and retail complex.
Television City's future may also include much more building density, real estate broker Mark Tarczynski of Colliers International said.
"I could see a whole 'nother Playa Vista-type development where you would have hotels, housing and creative offices," he said. "It is underutilized land that will have a much higher and better use if it goes into the right hands."
Television City opened Nov. 15, 1952, with a live hourlong program on the broadcast network called, "Stars in the Eye," a play on CBS' eye-shaped logo and a nod to the TV juggernaut joining the constellation of Hollywood.
The complex was home to "The Jack Benny Program," "General Electric Theater With Ronald Reagan," and "The Judy Garland Show." Elvis Presley appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956, during one of its Los Angeles swings. Also part of the 1950s live television era were "Art Linkletter's House Party," a daily midday show aimed at housewives, and the original 90-minute dramas of "Playhouse 90."
CBS, in a race with NBC, spent millions of dollars to quickly outfit Television City studios with color cameras in the mid-1960s. Along came "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," "All in the Family," "Good Times" and "Maude."
As a boy in the 1960s and 1970s growing up in the Boston suburb of Bedford., Mass., Shea recalls being captivated by productions from Television City. Shows were introduced by an announcer intoning: "From Television City in Hollywood:"
"It was as if magic fairy-dust had been sprinkled all over them," said Shea, 58, who made "a pilgrimage" to Hollywood in 1981 to attend tapings of "The Match Game" and "The Price Is Right" at Television City.
"The production quality, the attention to detail, everything was finely tuned," he said. "You could tell it was a CBS production."
3:45 p.m. This article was updated with comments from video producer Jim Shea, real estate broker Mark Marczynski and a spokesman for Councilman David Ryu, as well as historical background on the lot.