The Rockefeller Center Christmas Show's Last Minute Lift

Script changes and lighting checks continue up to showtime

By Emily Feldman
|  Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011  |  Updated 7:11 AM PDT
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Check out this awesome time-lapse video of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree arriving in the plaza and being hoisted onto its pedestal as workers prep it for its big night. The lighting ceremony is tonight on NBC.

John Gonzalez

Check out this awesome time-lapse video of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree arriving in the plaza and being hoisted onto its pedestal as workers prep it for its big night. The lighting ceremony is tonight on NBC.

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It's Christmas tree crunch time.

The day before the biggest Christmas show in the country, changes were still being made to the lineup. Faith Hill canceled. The Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey "All I Want for Christmas is You" music video set to debut Wednesday night was still being edited in Los Angeles. And Neil Diamond had to reschedule his Tuesday taping, though his choir still showed up. They'll have to try again hours before showtime.

About 250,000 spectators and 11 million viewers are expected to take in "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" broadcast live on NBC. The show, which includes live performances from Cee Lo Green, Carole King and a host of other artists, culminates with the lighting of the 74-foot Norway spruce by way of Pennsylvania. 

On hand to light the tree this year: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ted Harbert, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Rob and Jerry Speyer, CEOs of Tishman Speyer — the owner of Rockefeller Center.

Making sure the 79th annual tree lighting event runs smoothly takes months of preparation that intensifies as the show approaches.

On Monday, a team of lighting technicians buzzed around the plaza adjusting giant spotlights, hovering over computer screens and conducting the one and only tree lighting test that would happen before the real deal. At around 4:30 p.m., the switch — hidden away in a secret location and described as more of a lever — went on.

"It worked," reported a lighting designer who arrived at 2 p.m. and expected to stay until 4 a.m. as his team reviewed plans for the show.

Meanwhile, producer Bill Bracken and his team were still working out final details — making sure no two artists had plans to sing the same Christmas song, adjusting the show's script to account for Neil Diamond's late entry into the lineup and getting that Mariah Carey-Justin Bieber video delivered on time. 

"I wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and think: did I remember to do that? Did I get that into the script? Do I have enough time in the schedule?" Bracken said.

The way the plaza is shaping up pleases Keith Douglas, a managing director for Rockefeller Center who oversees shows on the iconic space — from summer concerts to a recent Ocean Spray event that transformed the plaza into a big cranberry bog. His crews transported the 10-ton tree to the heart of New York from Mifflinville, Pa., on a flatbed truck.

They wrapped the tree with five miles of wire, 38,000 bulbs and topped it with a 25,000-crystal Swarovski star. They erected giant toy soldiers and metallic flags around the skating rink, which will be covered with a white carpet stage for the show.

Backup generators are ready in case power fails for the big moment. One of the few things beyond Douglas' control is the weather, though it promises to be clear Wednesday night.

"It's forecast to be gorgeous," he said. "No rain after noon."

Douglas, who's helped run the show for the last six years, says Tishman Speyer aims to maintain the traditions started when the first tree lighting took place in 1933. There are no ornaments on the tree and the lights are turned off at 11:30 each night and lit again at 5:30 each morning.

Finishing touches, to both the plaza and the show's script, will continue through a dress rehearsal late Wednesday afternoon. After a quick dinner break all the teams will come together for the live show, which kicks off at 7 p.m. ET. It begins broadcasting one hour later.

"The best time," Bracken said, " is when it's off the air and we're happy and there were no technical problems, and we just finished a great-looking show."

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