Andrea Renault/Globe Photos
Melinda Spaulding
December 03, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

When the “Today” show moved into its sidewalk-accessible studio in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza in 1994, the only thing left standing between Katie, Bryant and their fans was glass. You may have thought current NBC execs were the geniuses behind this fan-friendly, all-window concept. But the new studio actually recreated the streetside “Today” set of the early 1950?s.

Three years later, “Today” holds the number one morning spot, and rival shows are rushing to imitate NBC’s outdoor tourist spectacle — an attention grabber that has featured everything from birthday greetings being shouted at Grandma Betty in Boise to a marriage proposal between visiting Scandanavians.

ABC’s “Good Morning America” has announced plans for a ground level Times Square studio, and “CBS This Morning” is hunting for its own midtown glass-front space. Earlier this year, MTV Studios moved into its tourist-friendly Times Square location, which allows fans on the street to catch sight of their favorite VJs, while viewers at home watch 42nd Street’s human parade. Such copycat moves come as no surprise. “TV is famous for this sort of bandwagon mentality,” says Steve McClellan, New York Bureau Chief of “Broadcasting & Cable.” “When the industry sees something work, suddenly a dozen shows are doing it.?

What’s the appeal of the storefront studios? “We want our viewers to feel connected to us every minute,” says MTV president, Judy McGrath. McGrath and other network heads hope that giving folks an eyeful of what?s happening on the set (and a chance to mug on camera for friends and family back home) will increase viewership.

But will this rush to be in touch with viewers — literally, in some cases — boost ratings? Well, at least in the case of “Today,” the number one rating probably depends more on Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Al Roker, and Ann Curry than on the set. “It?s a little extra kicker that doesn?t make or break a show,” says McClellan. “Substantial content will get you where you want in the ratings. The rest is just window dressing.”

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