CNN has decided to keep its lease on its Hollywood headquarters for another fifteen years. That's the news in an article in today's L.A Times, "Hollywood Learns There's No Place Like Home."
CNN considered moving to the San Fernando Valley or the Wilshire Boulevard corridor east of Beverly Hills before renewing its lease for the next 15 years. CNN agreed to pay $24 million to stay in the 40,000 square feet at 6430 Sunset Blvd., home of "Larry King Live" and other broadcasts.
I first came to Hollywood myself as the original hard news correspondent for CNN. I know that dates me, and the entertainment biz is enormously hard on people who've been around a while no matter what they've accomplished, but I don't care. To say that I was simply a CNN correspondent for the Hollywood bureau just doesn't measure up: I was the first.
We were in another building then, about two blocks down from CNN's current headquarters. 6290 Sunset. I remember when I first looked up at that building. Sunset & Vine, it was. Even a kid from Oregon had heard of those streets. I drove past that building last week and it's barricaded off and it looks like they're doing a total make-over.
The first week I was in LA, doing rehearsals before CNN would officially go on the air, we had an earthquake. I was in our offices on the 16th floor and I literally thought I was going to die before I ever got to tag off a story with, "Reporting from Los Angeles, Bryce Zabel, CNN." The building swayed visibly (I didn't know then it was engineered to do this and that was a good thing) and there was no place to take cover.
The building didn't fall, CNN went on the air and it never went off since. I remember quitting a job as an anchor at KVOA in Tucson, Arizona to take this job, and the news director warning me that this CNN thing looked pretty iffy and I was probably making a big mistake. Instead, it changed my life.
I'm pretty sure I was the youngest network correspondent in America at the time. I'd been out of college for all of four years, reported and anchored at markets in Oregon and Arizona. The thing is, though, CNN couldn't play with the big boys back then. They wanted to pay low wages and work people non-stop. In exchange, they would give you a national audience and let you work on a project you believed in. And I did believe. I thought that 24-hour news would have the chance of letting the whole world see things together as they happened and that would change the world.
Back during the time I worked for CNN, I used to bump into my network counterparts at all kinds of stories. Often these men and women were reporting one story every three days, that kind of schedule. I was reporting three stories every day. It was like local news with a national audience.
It was a thrill, covering presidential campaigns, space shuttle launches, disasters, triumphs, everything. It was also crazy. I remember that I personally had to edit my first 17 stories that went out on-the-air because CNN had not hired a competent videotape editor, and I had taught myself editing back at my Oregon station, KVAL. I also remember seeing Ted Turner get off the elevator late at night, smoking a cigar, with a beautiful woman on his arm, after I'd been there since before sunrise. He smiled at me and said, "God, this is fun!"
Those of us who worked there during those first days were always bonded, like we'd been at war. Earlier this year, our assignment editor Scott Barer and I got back together for a lunch and it was like we'd never gone away. We remembered everybody fondly: Tim Sevison, Dave Rust, Casey Bennett, Scott Spiro, so many others. I remember there was an intern who was producing "The Lee Leonard Show" back then, who I had to throw off the editing machines from time to time. His name was Doug Herzog and now he runs Comedy Central. His Wikipedia entry says he started his career at MTV, but I know better.
I saw the new CNN headquarters about five years ago when I did several live interviews there post 9/11 talking about postponing the Emmy Awards show, while I was chairman of the TV Academy. If my CNN was a mom-and-pop news operation, it had clearly grown into the big time.
I'm glad CNN is staying in Hollywood. Like the article says, it's a good location, close to everything. Definitely close to me. Ted Turner was right. It was fun.