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Birthplace of Sitcoms Is Canceled

March 14, 2003|Monte Morin | Times Staff Writer

Nothing lasts forever, especially when it comes to life in the little blue box.

That was the conclusion television director Doug Dougherty came to this month as construction crews began laying waste to Hollywood's former Metromedia Square, the birthplace of many of America's most famous situation comedies.

During the 1970s, the Metromedia stages were used to tape more than 20 Norman Lear-produced TV shows and pilots, including "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons," "One Day at a Time" and "Maude."

Crews are clearing the once-bustling complex for a 2,000-student high school intended to relieve overcrowding at Hollywood and Marshall highs. The $114-million campus is expected to open in 2005.

Dougherty, who worked at Metromedia Square for a year, now watches the demolition from his office across the street.

"You'll be sitting here working and all of a sudden there's a thud and a crash and another chunk of it's missing," he said. "When you work in television, you know that your shows are temporary. When you see what's happening here, it's a huge reminder that everything is temporary."

The lot, which had six hangar-like stages, also hosted the Fox broadcasting network and KTTV-TV and was used for movie shoots. Swim sequences for some of the Esther Williams musicals were shot there, and B-movie director Edward Wood Jr. ("Plan 9 From Outer Space" and others) used a building there, according to Hollywood history buff Gary Wayne.

As Wayne observes on his Web site, the decision to level the stage lot for a high school is ironic. The long-running high school comedy "Saved By the Bell" was one of the most recent shows taped here.

For more than a quarter-century, the lot's signature architectural flourish, a giant, zigzag sculpture that resembled a collapsed radio tower or misplaced fire escape, puzzled and amused motorists on the Hollywood Freeway. The lot's larger legacy, however, is the shows that Lear produced.

Lear, who said he was surprised to hear about the demolition, recalled the lot fondly.

"You would think of the lot as a home. We really were a big family there, and as we had another kid, we'd build another bedroom." But Lear wasn't saddened.

"As far as I'm concerned," he said, "anything that's torn down to make way for education is good."

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