L.A. exhibit celebrates TV history

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2012 - 3:05 PM

Sit in Jerry Seinfeld's diner booth and relish other prime-time props and memorabilia at the Paley Center for Media near Rodeo Drive.

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The Central Perk set, made famous by the comedy “Friends,” is on display at the exhibit, “Television: Out of the Box” at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Photo: Paley Center For Media

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Los Angeles-bound tourists are practically required to visit the Getty Center, an oasis high above the hustle and bustle of the city, if only to take in the French tapestries and stroll through the lush, designed gardens. But while in La-La Land, don't forget to give your inner couch potato the chance to feast your eyes on an equally awe-inspiring piece of art: Tony Soprano's bathrobe.

This "historic" attire is on display at the Paley Center for Media, a Beverly Hills institution primarily known for its video library and lecture series until this past March when Warner Bros. helped turn its hallways, spiral staircase and lobbies into a pop-culture edition of "Antiques Roadshow."

"Television Out of the Box," an exhibit that runs through 2015, consists largely of items previously showcased during studio tours, but those can be long, expensive and hectic. At the Paley Center, even the most die-hard TV fans can get through the $10 show in a little more than an hour, leaving plenty of time to do some window shopping on nearby Rodeo Drive.

On the way upstairs, baby boomers will be transported back to elementary school with a colorful display of vintage lunch boxes featuring the likes of "The Jetsons," "Welcome Back, Kotter" and "Kung Fu." At the top of the stairs, children of all ages will get a kick out of a collection of Bugs Bunny dolls, each dressed up by a famous designer (Bob Mackie's carrot dress is a particular hoot).

Costumes, props delight

Then on to the main event. Much of the floor space is populated by headless mannequins decked out in familiar outfits from "The Drew Carey Show," "Friends" and "Pretty Little Liars." The most valuable item, according to a breathless tour guide, is an original Wonder Woman costume with each individual sparkling star worth $5,000. (The superheroine's invisible plane may or may not have been on the premises.)

The silent models are surrounded by opportunities designed to be captured on your iPhone. Sit in the same booth from "Seinfeld" where Elaine ordered the big salad. Stand behind the podium where "The West Wing" president addressed the press. Pose at a piano with that animated maestro Daffy Duck.

The one set piece you may want to avoid is the Theme Song Theater, if only because there's a chance that you'll be joined by karaoke singers who insist on belting out the theme from "Growing Pains."

Instead, go hunting for buried treasures among the glass cases and bulletin boards.

During my visit, I spotted Lorelai Gilmore's engagement ring ("Gilmore Girls"), Mel Sharples' cap ("Alice"), C.J. Cregg's business cards ("The West Wing"), a "Free Marissa" flier ("The O.C."), a Yogi Bear bubble pipe, Phoebe Buffay's guitar ("Friends"), a "Lex Luther for Senator" campaign button ("Smallville") and Lily Rush's detective badge ("Cold Case").

OK, so maybe those items aren't heading to the Smithsonian, but at least one or two of these props are sure to delight.

For those dead set on actually learning something, there are scattered pieces of history that provide fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Make sure to read studio head Jack Warner's notes regarding actor Clint Walker's costumes for "Cheyenne" and another memo detailing why one executive was convinced that a certain series pilot was a bomb. "It just didn't go anywhere," it states.

The series? "Dallas."

Videos with cast members

The center also leans heavily on its vast video collection, offering up clips of "ER" and "Friends" with commentary from cast members and creators.

My visit had a built-in bonus: Living, breathing TV stars.

Ed Asner, Marg Helgenberger, Joan Van Ark and Michele Lee were among the guests at a summer party celebrating the exhibit. While it would be easy for such veterans to be jaded by so many kitschy items, they seemed to actually get a kick out of soaking in some history (as well as some free cocktails).

Peter Roth, the current president of Warner Bros. Television, summed it up best: "Being here is like being a kid in a proverbial candy store."

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431 Twitter: @nealjustin

  • "TELEVISION OUT OF THE BOX"

    Where: The Paley Center For Media, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills.

    When: noon-5 p.m. Wed-Sun. Closed Mon. and Tue.

    Tickets: $10 adults, $5 for children under 13. www.paleycenter.org; 1-310-786-1000.

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