Studio flood forces CBS morning show to move to drier quarters across town

Thursday, August 9, 2007

NEW YORK -- In television, it's never a good sign when it starts raining in your indoor studio less than 40 minutes before airtime.

That's what happened to "The Early Show" on CBS Wednesday, forcing a mad scramble across Manhattan in a downpour to broadcast the morning news program out of Katie Couric's empty studio.

Co-anchor Hannah Storm was in her office at 6:20 a.m. when the TV screen she was watching cut out. She went into the newsroom and found chaos -- water pouring through the ceiling and staff members struggling to cover computers and desks.

Intense storms that disrupted New York City's morning rush hour also caused water to back up on the plaza outside CBS' Fifth Avenue streetside studio. Besides flooding the newsroom and studio, the water leaked into a control room packed with electrical equipment one floor below.

"We made an almost instantaneous decision to bolt," said Michael Bass, the show's senior executive producer.

More than 40 people rushed onto Fifth Avenue in the rain and hailed cabs. They needed to get to CBS' broadcast studio more than six long blocks west for the show's opening at 7 a.m.

Save for some minor technical problems -- anchor Julie Chen in Los Angeles initially couldn't hear her colleagues -- the top of the show was seamless. Storm and Harry Smith briefly explained to viewers why they were on a different set.

Besides the CBS staff members, guest Stephon Marbury of the New York Knicks (on hand to hawk a line of sneakers) and six models ready to give a fashion show of "chic on a shoestring" clothes also had to rush across town. One cab carried fences for a home-improvement segment.

"If that leak had happened an hour later, we would have been in big trouble," Bass said.

Because of technical problems, CBS had to use its broadcast center as a backup on the Sept. 11 anniversary last fall. But, because its anchors were on location then, the change wasn't noticeable to viewers.

They got lucky with timing Wednesday, but it led CBS executives to meet to make sure they have contingency plans for a midshow calamity. It also wasn't clear Wednesday afternoon whether equipment damage would keep "The Early Show" away from its home the rest of the week.

Rather than panicking, those working kept up a "hey child, let's put on a show!' spirit, Storm said.

"I like stuff like that," Storm said. "I think it's fun. I love rock 'n' roll ... I actually had a gas."

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