The area along the entry avenue (called both Plaza of the Stars and 57th St.) and to its left is collectively marked on maps as Production Central, but who are they kidding? Nowadays, those soundstages are used mostly for the odd local commercial and for haunted houses at Universal’s fiendishly popular Halloween event.

The initial dream was much bigger. When the park was built, it was intended to be more like the original Hollywood location, where an amusement area grew up around a working studio. Newspapers at the time trumpeted Orlando as “Hollywood of the East” because year-round production could be accomplished here and at Disney–MGM Studios, and millions of tourists could be a part of the process. One of Universal’s soundstages housed a working TV studio for Nickelodeon, the kids’ cable channel, and the game show “Double Dare” plucked families out of the park to compete on air. In front of the studio, a geyser of “green slime” (actually green water) gurgled in tribute to the Canadian show “You Can’t Do That on Television” that helped make the channel’s fortunes. (Today, that stage houses the equally messy Blue Man Group.) But the plan never took. It wasn’t cost-effective to move productions here, celebrities didn’t really relish working amidst a theme park, and state tax credits were often spotty.

The first block of Production Central is mostly shops, including the largest gift shop in the park, Universal Studios Store, on the left. Across from that are the tempting Art Deco buildings of Rodeo Drive, the spine of the Hollywood area and for my money the prettiest part of the park.

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