Hungry for a Change of Scene, NBC’s Brokaw Bolts ‘Camp O.J.’
Just when it seems TV’s obsession with the O.J. Simpson murder case has peaked, it reaches new heights.
Only two weeks into a trial that may take more than six months, television is already growing tired of “Camp O.J."--the cramped compound of satellite dishes and broadcast platforms near the Criminal Courts Building that is giving the world its look at Los Angeles.
The same TV executives who pooled their resources to build that encampment are now scrambling to find rooftops overlooking the Civic Center. They want to build separate studios to give their prized newscasters some privacy--and a more pricey-looking backdrop.
Without so much as a good night from Camp O.J., NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw has bailed off the 40-foot tower that NBC erected there. He’s taken his lights, cameras and TelePrompTer to a six-story aerie atop the state’s Department of Transportation building.
Other broadcasters are getting itchy feet too.
“They want to put platforms here, platforms there. They want permission to put remote cameras on light poles,” said Los Angeles County government spokeswoman Judy Hammond, who is helping coordinate use of county property by broadcasters.
Television producers have tried to rent a vacant Civic Center lot at the northeast corner of 1st Street and Broadway. They also sought use of empty top-floor office space and an enticing rooftop at a retail building on the southeast corner of 1st and Spring streets.
It seems the sky’s the limit for broadcasters. They’ve already chipped in $1 million to pay for things like power cables, portable toilets and parking spaces at Camp O.J. outside the now-closed county Hall of Justice.
Individually, they are spending thousands more on private scaffolding platforms, telephone lines and leased microwave equipment.
But the price of Brokaw’s Caltrans penthouse on South Spring Street is certainly reasonable enough: It’s free.
“It’s part of the state’s intent to help keep the entertainment industry here,” explained Jim McCarthy, a Caltrans administrator.
NBC producer Philip Alongi said his network tried to rent platform space for Brokaw at two other Downtown locations.
The owner of the vacant lot at 1st and Broadway turned them down after explaining that he needs to break ground for a long-awaited office building in December in order to retain his development permit, said Alongi, of New York City.
Negotiations over use of the roof at The Times’ office, which overlooks the courthouse, also fell through. “It wasn’t something they wanted to do,” Alongi said of the paper.
Laura Morgan, a spokeswoman for The Times, said the newspaper offered NBC one site, “but it wasn’t quite the background they wanted. There was a safety issue to the site they were interested in.”
Brokaw tried out his new rooftop with a broadcast Friday afternoon. Technicians were pleased with the camera angle: The courthouse was behind Brokaw on the left and Los Angeles’ landmark City Hall was on the right.
Network officials said that during the trial, Brokaw will introduce court correspondents, who will do their reports from NBC’s tower platform at Camp O.J.
NBC’s breakout from the encampment drew groans Monday from rival networks. And its rent-free deal with Caltrans drew whistles.
“It’s irritating,” said one producer. “This is getting nutty,” said another.
Tim Tison, a producer at ABC, said his network has “several locations we can do it from” if anchorman Peter Jennings comes to town and decides Camp O.J. isn’t to his liking.
CBS Vice President Lane Venardos said it hasn’t been decided yet when and where Dan Rather and Connie Chung will be anchoring his network’s evening news once the trial really gets going.
Venardos scoffed that NBC has no better view of the courtroom than its rivals at Camp O.J. He said a Downtown backdrop behind an anchorman is merely cosmetic.
“This is not a story about Los Angeles, but about a guy on trial,” Venardos said. But he added: “If I like what I see on Brokaw, we might change.”
CNN spokesman David Talley said his cable network has no plans to report from anywhere but from its platform at Camp O.J.
But broadcasters acknowledge that there probably will be a demand for fresh viewing points, along with fresh viewpoints, as the trial continues.
“Every time I pick up the phone, it’s a new adventure,” said Carolyn Fox, an official of the local Radio and Television News Assn. who is helping coordinate broadcast facilities for the trial.
“It’s not just the local stations. We dealing with networks and foreign press and out-of-town stations,” she said. “And everybody wants to do something a little different.”