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AOL Builds a Live TV Studio in the Heart of Greenwich Village

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When AOL Build studio has an A-lister on set, Suzanne Lindbergh likes to watch people passing by on the sidewalk. On Matthew McConaughey day, she saw a guy checking his phone as he walked by on 4th street. Then he glanced up, froze in his tracks, and stared through the studio window. Finally, he did what anyone would do—he took a picture and continued on his way.

AOL opened a studio in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village on January 12, as the new home for its live celebrity chat show Build. While this isn’t the first TV studio to use NYC’s streets as a backdrop, it’s the only one downtown. Unlike the Good Morning America studio in Times Square, the Build studio’s windows have a tint to them, so people on the street don’t immediately see who’s inside. When passers-by catch sight of the big-name celebrities AOL regularly has onstage, it takes them by surprise. “We do have a filter, and the filter plays into us wanting to get the best possible controlled look and feel on camera,” explains Lindbergh, senior vice president and general manager for Build. “We want to create beautiful video, and so our [director of photography] put a little bit of a filter on the window in order for us to be able to really control the lighting because, as you know, it’s very hard to light for outdoors, indoors to outdoors, rain or shine, on any given day. You can see through, though, and it’s very fun to watch people’s discovery.”

All Are Welcome

Not only can passers-by see inside, they can also go inside. Anyone can find the Build studio interview schedule online and request free tickets, or perhaps just join in if they’re walking by and there’s room.

“We want to welcome those people to come on inside,” Lindbergh says. “If you’re excited about who’s on stage, come on inside and watch. We can sit 80 people downstairs, 20 in our mezzanine, but then we can have another group of 20 or 25 standing in the waiting area.”

While the audience is often in awe of Build’s A-list guests, sometimes the guests are in awe, themselves.

Lucky Yates, Jessica Walter, and Amber Nash of Archer on the set at AOL’s Build studio, named for the live celebrity chat show with the same title. (Photo: Gino DePinto)

“Sam Jackson was in with Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson and they were talking about their new film Kong: Skull Island,” Lindbergh remembers. “Sam was looking out the window and he goes, ‘Hey, Brie, do you know who that guy is?’ She looked and she didn’t know, a guy sitting on the corner. He said, ‘That’s Radio Man,’ and he told her the story of Radio Man which is this guy who is legendary in New York. In The Fisher King, the character that Robin Williams played was modeled a little bit on Radio Man. ‘That guy, Radio Man, shows up to all the locations in the city. He knows the actors,’ Jackson said. ‘Every time I come to New York and shoot, that guy can tell me, “Oh, tomorrow, Sam, you guys are shooting at the other location in Brooklyn”, because he knows and he follows that.’ We can bring the city in to the content, which is really cool.”

Pedestrians walking past the Build studio on 4th street in Greenwich Village can see what’s going on inside, and even walk in for a closer view if there’s room.

That clip is available on YouTube, for Jackson or Radio Man fans who want to look it up. But the story doesn’t end there:

“Last week, we had Katie Holmes and Matthew Perry, and then Katie came walking out and she had a package. As she walked out, she handed the package to Radio Man. He was in the back. I didn’t even see him. She saw him. She handed the package to Radio Man and she waved. He was like, ‘Thanks, Katie.’ They were like, ‘Radio Man, what is that?’ and he showed it. She had signed him, ‘To Radio Man,’ an autographed picture. She knew that he was hanging out. She gave that to him, and so we took a little video with him and he was like, ‘Did you see the video of Sam Jackson talking about me?’ It was just this adorable thing that we brought New York into the stage. These great legends of New York, these great stories of New York get to play out in the content. I grew up in California, I would watch Letterman and I would always be like, ‘Oh, New York.’ I think that our show does that, too.”

A Legendary Location

The intersection of 4th and Broadway wasn’t Build’s first home. The show originally shot from a corner of the fourth floor at AOL’s corporate headquarters up the street at 770 Broadway. But the producers decided to take their show out into the world and create a studio on the streets. AOL announced the creation of the Build studio way back in May 2016, at its annual NewFront event. The contract had only been signed the night before. The location AOL chose has a certain cultural pedigree for longtime Manhattanites.

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