In my early experiences watching TV as a kid, I found myself mainly oblivious to the intricate goings-on behind the scenes. I was so immersed in the fictional worlds created on screen for me that I rarely stopped to think about how these fictional universes were actually being created. Over winter break, I ventured to the valley to visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Burbank and in many ways, doing so has changed how I watch some of my favorite shows in an unexpected way.
The studio tour is open to the public and takes you on a golf cart journey through the history of the studio and the TV shows and movies filmed there. The tour guide individualizes the experience for your cart, asking what shows and films you love so they can point out the specific locations. I suggested “Gilmore Girls,” and others shouted out “Pretty Little Liars” and — a tour favorite — “Friends.”
For most of the tour, the cart takes you around the studio’s backlot, pointing out the different exteriors used for filming. At certain points, you’re able to get out of the cart and see inside some buildings, such as the famous Stars Hollow town square and gazebo from “Gilmore Girls.”
The experience, while fun and incredibly interesting, can be a little disorienting at times. I’ve rewatched “Gilmore Girls” countless times, and I have basically memorized what Stars Hollow looks like. With the perfect image in my head, it was strange to see that Luke’s Diner is down the street from Love’s bakery in season three of “You” and The Alibi Room from “Shameless.” I imagined the worlds that exist within each show to do just that — exist fully contained in their own separate universes.
On the tour I also saw the outside of both Lorelai and Sookie’s houses from “Gilmore Girls,” learning the houses are actually the same building, with the exterior of each house on opposite sides. The exterior for Lorelai’s house is also the outside of Spencer’s from “Pretty Little Liars.”
When I left the tour last month, I was concerned. Seeing everything behind the curtain made me worry that I would never be able to watch my favorite shows in the same immersive way I used to. Instead of just enjoying an episode, what if I suddenly became distracted trying to find out exactly how they shot the scene?
This worry was short lived. I quickly realized that seeing sound stages and the sets for some of my favorite shows only enhanced my viewing experience. Learning that the same set I had grown to love as Rory and Lorelai’s house shared a memory with “Pretty Little Liars” fans didn’t ruin my viewing experience. Instead, it made me appreciate the deep studio history in shows shot on backlots like the one at Warner Bros.
I appreciate the apparent goal of TV and movies to completely immerse the audience in their fictional world. When it isn’t obvious that the characters aren’t actually on a beach but rather a pile of sand on a stage in Burbank, the shows can seem more sophisticated and easier to believe. However, there is something nostalgic about the specific feeling that comes from watching something on a soundstage, like an old sitcom or Disney Channel show.
More and more recent popular TV shows seem as though they are being shot mainly on location. “Succession” utilizes the New York City it takes place in, and the entire cast traveled to Italy last summer to film the last episodes of season three. “Euphoria” uses sound stages for some interior sets, like Rue’s bedroom, but other sets are on location in the Los Angeles area.
With more TV shows being shot on location, audiences are able to get a more realistic feel for the sets. “Succession” feels like it takes place in New York City more than “Friends” does. However, going to the studio made me wonder if shooting on sound stages adds a touch of history to the shows that utilize them more. On the outside of every stage, there are lists of all of the other shows and movies filmed there, along with their years. There is a piece of film and TV history in each stage that adds something special to the experience of watching shows and movies filmed on them.
The WB studio tour is one of my favorite things to do in LA, and I feel like I need to go back to really see everything. If you are a like-minded TV lover, I highly recommend taking a day to pay it a visit and immerse yourself in your favorite shows. Walking around in the middle of Stars Hollow or in front of the “Friends” couch will give you even more of an appreciation for the shows you love.
Claire DuMont SC ’23 is one of TSL’s TV columnists. “Gilmore Girls” is one of her favorite shows of all-time, and she is still recovering from seeing the gazebo in person.