CBS News rebuilds MTV's old 'TRL' studio for election night

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FILE - The ViacomCBS headquarters is shown in New York's Times Square on Aug. 5, 2020. CBS News is rebuilding MTV's old "Total Request Live" studio as its headquarters for election night. The network is installing giant touchscreens and "augmented reality" displays for the big political night and says the studio provides extra roominess to put on a television show in the COVID-19 era. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

NEW YORK – Watch out for Britney Spears and the Jonas Bros.: CBS News is building a new high-tech election night set in the Times Square studio where MTV's “Total Request Live” ruled the music world two decades ago.

The set, at the ViacomCBS headquarters on Broadway, highlights modern wizardry like “augmented reality” 3-D images and multiple data screens while offering enough roominess to protect staff members from being infected with COVID-19, the network said on Thursday.

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Norah O'Donnell will anchor her first presidential election night, joined on the set by Gayle King, Margaret Brennan, John Dickerson and Ed O'Keefe.

“We're empowering our top political journalists with the latest data visualization and storytelling tools to bring as much clarity as we can to this election,” said CBS News President Susan Zirinsky.

New York and Hollywood studios often have multiple lives, and it can be interesting to trace their histories. In the early 2000s, music's top artists journeyed to 1515 Broadway to talk to host Carson Daly and to look out on fans massing in Times Square below. The show's original incarnation ended in 2008.

Shades will be drawn on the windows for the serious business of election night. For television networks, there's no bigger night to show off their wares than presidential election nights. CBS would not say how much it was spending to retrofit the new studio.

The coronavirus, which has driven millions of American workers into home offices, added to the challenge of creating the new studio, said David Bohrman, executive producer of the election night coverage.

Everyone who enters the studio preparing for the election must be tested for the coronavirus every day, he said.

The network's CBSN streaming service will provide continuous election coverage from 7 a.m. on November 3. On television, CBS will have Major Garrett reporting on voter integrity, Jeff Pegues on misinformation and Nancy Cordes on congressional races. Anthony Salvanto will run the decision desk, while Reince Prebius and Valerie Jarrett will be commentators.

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