MSNBC’s primary studio gutted, new set on its way

First on NewscastStudio: NBC has gutted the MSNBC side Studio 3A in its 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters, a combination working newsroom and studio, as it prepares for a new set this fall.

NewscastStudio has confirmed the changes and forthcoming set installation with multiple network insiders who also report the new set will debut in September 2021.

Studio 3A has been home to some of MSNBC’s most prominent programming including “Morning Joe” and multiple editions of “MSNBC Reports” (previously known as “MSNBC Live”), “The Rachel Maddow Show” and “Deadline: White House,” among others. 

Hints of the demolition began appearing on MSNBC air in mid-June 2021 — with “Deadline” relocated to Studio 4E and “Morning Joe” originating from Washington, D.C. after a short return to the NYC studio following over a year of remote production due to the pandemic. “Maddow” and “The 11th Hour” have been originating largely from simplified setups since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The shot, which appeared on the June 22, 2021, ‘All In with Chris Hayes‘ appears to use Studio 3A’s video ribbon and movable monitor, but it’s actually an image of the set taken prior to demolition with the ‘Sinema Situation’ graphic digitally added. 

Shots that appear to be from 3A have continued to appear on air, but these are based on imagery of the set captured before it was demolished with new topical graphics, as necessary, inserted digitally. This is similar to how “NBC Nightly News” used images of its set with digitally added topical imagery shown behind Lester Holt from alternate broadcasting locations during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Sources say the space will continue to be used heavily by MSNBC, which isn’t surprising given the amount of programming that uses the space. There are also plans to upgrade the lighting to more energy efficient LED instruments and the grid has been cleared, according to sources.

Studio 3A first opened in its current form in 2007 when NBC opted to move MSNBC and its network newsroom out of Secaucus, New Jersey, to inside Rock Center. MLB Network now fills the former Secaucus location once home to MSNBC. 

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Studio 3A when it debuted in 2007. The white lanterns and red walls remained mostly in place until 2021. The balcony, whose silver edge and glass railing is visible in the upper right, was removed in 2016.

Originally, the space had a balcony, multiple rear projection screens, a floor to ceiling “window” created using multiple flat panel screens. The lower portion of this array lifted up, garage door style, revealing the entrance to a storage area beyond where the network could stash set pieces and anchor desks.

In this view, looking the opposite direction of Studio 3A, also taken in 2007, shows the floor to ceiling ‘window’ created using multiple smaller video panels with a New York City skyline featured on it. The installation was also used as a ‘Jeopardy!’ game board and to create multicolored ‘audio spikes.’ 

Also featured were multiple backlit walls with structural grid elements in front and monitors in a variety of sizes mounted in front of it.

Studio 3A also featured the first of the internally lit “lanterns” that would become a hallmark of the network’s studio designs for more than a decade as well as a portion of the floor that could be raised and lowered.

Set Design

MSNBC Studio 3A

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Those lanterns, which could, along with the backlit walls, change color, were installed over workstations for newsroom staffers, which could be seen in the background when the network shot that direction.

The 2007 home of ‘NBC Nightly News,’ then known as Studio 3C. The window overlooked Studio 3A (this window was modified later to remove the frame down the middle of the glass.

During the same renovation, the network renovated the neighboring Studio 3C into a new home for “NBC Nightly News,” which had occupied the space previously. 

The two studios became connected thanks to doorways and glass windows, creating a sort of central “hub” for MSNBC and NBC News.

Set Design

NBC News Studio 3B

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This setup lasted until 2011, when “Nightly” relocated to Studio 3B, in a sprawling set shared with the now-defunct newsmagazine “Rock Center.” “Nightly” and “Dateline,” as well as other key NBC News programming had all occupied this space over the years

After “Nightly” moved, WNBC moved into 3C and the space was closed off from Studio 3A — a change that would be reverted in 2017 when WNBC moved down the hall to Studio 3K, which had previously been used by multiple MSNBC shows.

At roughly the same time, Studio 3C lost its designator (at least on paper) and became known as Studio 3A or Studio 3AW.

Studio 3A after the 2016 update. The portion of the studio to the immediate right of the with the star decals was originally the vertical monitor ‘window.’ The left portion of the video wall, which in this image is showing a feed from the Republican National Convention, could be moved to allow access to the storage area behind.

Meanwhile, 2016 saw a major update to Studio 3A, with the network removing the monitor stack and a backlit wall in favor of two seamless LED video wall installations that met perpendicular to each other to form a corner. 

The LED wall, left, and curved portion, center, that was added in 2018. The original ‘lanterns’ are visible in the top center of the image.

In 2018, MSNBC removed the balcony and added an additional video wall installation with a curved portion that “flowed” out from the flat portion of the wall. This unique LED array was often used for “Deadline: White House” and by Steve Kornacki, whose interactive touchscreen was often positioned at the freestanding end of it during election coverage.

Ahead of the 2020 election, the network installed a riser amid the workstations, which had slowly been cut back over the years, that served as a home base for augmented reality shots. 

NBC News and MSNBC have not relied heavily on Studio 3A’s work areas for several years, especially after it opened a new newsroom on the fourth floor of 30 Rock in 2016, which included the installation of Studio 4E, a glassed-in studio that overlooks the newsroom.

The current “Nightly” studio features two glass walls with doors that overlooked the workstations in 3A. 

Weekend ‘NBC Nightly News’ anchor José Diaz-Balart is shown in front of the glass window and door overlooking the newsroom space behind. The door handles are visible in the lower right near the bug while the large blue globe graphic behind Diaz-Balart’s head is being fed to an LED array that could be wheeled into place to ‘cover’ the rest of the studio behind him.

One of these was, in the studio’s original blocking, used as one of the most common views behind the anchor, often with an OTS graphic, and provided a view down the center of the workstations and the larger studio space beyond.

However, the network had the option to roll a wild video wall out to cover whatever was happening on the opposite end of 3A and would typically feed a generic video loop of 3A to it to create the illusion that the entire space was visible for real.

The other wall, which featured floating world clocks, was rarely seen on air. 

Both of these openings have now been covered, but “Nightly” has not been using the newsroom view since unveiling new video wall graphics and a studio refresh in the fall of 2020.

If the space that once overlooked the newsroom is needed, it could conceivably be filled with LED to showcase graphics or a video loop of the now-demolished newsroom.

During the 2020 election cycle coverage, the network used a variety of handheld shots to showcase multiple parts of Studio 3A, making it one of the last times that viewers saw large portions of the space before its demolition. 

While 3A and 3C were separated, MSNBC built a small, enclosed studio for Brian Williams, who was demoted to breaking news anchor for MSNBC after being unseated from “Nightly News” in the aftermath of evidence he exaggerated his reporting.

This also used the central row of workstations as a background, with the option to use a moving wall with video panels.

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