4301 West Olive Avenue, Burbank, California
(Warner Bros. Studios Gate 3 parking garage)
Closest freeway exit is Hollywood Way from the 134 westbound, Pass Avenue eastbound
Reservations and information: 818-846-1403

This guided tour of the main Warner Bros. studio facility in Burbank, California, is probably the closest the average Joe who doesn't know anybody in the biz can come to real Hollywood filmmaking.

Reservations are required for the tours; they begin weekdays at 9:00 A.M., and depart hourly until 3:00 P.M. from October through April, half-hourly until 4:00 P.M. from May through September.

Every tour begins with a video about how wonderful Warner Bros. is, featuring plenty of clips from their movies and TV shows, everything from "Casablanca" to "Friends."

For the rest of the tour, it's on and off the electric cart at every stop. The first stop is always the Warner Bros. Museum, which is in a two-story annex to one of the studio office buildings. They manage to pack a bunch of valuable artifacts into the space, including every Warner Bros. Best Picture Oscar, the Maltese falcon from "The Maltese Falcon," an original Vitaphone disc from "The Jazz Singer," and a letter from Jack L. Warner wishing "Bonnie and Clyde" had never gotten the green light.

Eventually, once the guide gets tired of watching the tourists run around looking at stuff, it's back into the carts for the rest of the tour.

What gets seen on the rest of the tour depends heavily on what's being filmed or taped at that exact moment. The tours have to stay away from areas where active filming is in progress (you know, "quiet on the set" and all that), but try to get as close as possible to areas where filming has just wrapped or is going to happen later that day or tomorrow.

The tours may include visits to television sound stages, such as the home of "The Drew Carey Show"; sound stages being used for feature films are usually off-limits. Also a possibility for the agenda is the prop/furniture warehouse, home to shelves full of pottery, shelves full of alarm clocks, and more credenzas than you can imagine; the costume warehouse; and/or a Foley stage, where they'll do a sound effects demonstration. Photography is prohibited on this part of the tour; in fact, the guide will collect everyone's cameras and stick them in a secret compartment on the cart.

The cameras are returned to their owners as the tours conclude on the backlot, home to many fake houses and fake stores that look hauntingly familiar because they've been used in about half of the movies and TV shows that have been made since 1950. Also on the backlot is the hospital exterior used for "ER," with a short section of elevated train track, leading nowhere, in front, and a network of pipes above the courtyard that can be used to simulate rain or snow.

Finally, there's the obligatory gift shop, with special "Warner Bros. Studio Tour" T-shirts available, as well as videotapes and DVDs of Warner Bros. films.

The average length of the tours is 2 hours, 15 minutes, but that can vary somewhat depending on the guide conducting the tour, as well as how interested the participants are in looking at fake New York Times vending machines on the fake street used in "Gilmore Girls."

The big drawback is that the tour costs $32, so spending a little over two hours at Warner Bros. is not much less expensive than a full day at Disneyland or Universal Studios. However, it's much less staged than the supposed studio tour at Universal (any earthquakes while at Warner Bros. will be the real thing). The tour is pretty much consistently fascinating for big movie and/or TV buffs, and it's the only way to see the great exhibits in the museum, which is only open to Warner Bros. employees and their guests in addition to the tour groups.

Casual fans, however, can see a little bit of the studios for free by getting studio audience tickets for any of the sitcoms that tape there.

Note: I went on the tour in July 2001; shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, there were apparently threats made against the Los Angeles-area studios that caused them all to greatly increase security, and Warner Bros. temporarily canceled the tours. Since they've been reinstated, parking has been moved across the street, with vehicle searches possible. (The new parking location is what's listed above.) I don't know if there have been any changes to the tour itself.

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