5.4 magnitude quake rocks Southern CA

It was less than boffo, as Southern California temblors go.

Showbiz workers were rattled by Tuesday’s 5.4 earthquake, which bowed at 11:42 a.m., just in time for maximum coverage on the midday local newscasts.

One DreamWorks staffer on the Universal lot reported that the biggest casualty was the Softsoap bottle that fell into the bathroom sink. A Technicolor worker in Burbank reported that his Hellboy figure toppled over.

Like many a summer popcorn pic, the quake had its moments — and it dragged at the end — but it was ultimately anticlimactic, thankfully, in terms of damage to the region. That didn’t stop the newsies from springing into wall-to-wall Team Coverage mode, even though most of the reports were of the “nothing’s amiss here, Chuck” variety.

Disney’s local O&O, KABC, cut quickly after the shaking stopped to the epicenter of the Mouse’s world — Disneyland park in Anaheim — to report that all of the guests were being ushered off the rides in an orderly fashion so the rides could all be checked for damage. There was a bottleneck at the Autopia, but other than that, all was calm in the Happiest Place on Earth.

Closer to home for showbiz, the unskedded seismic activity — which at first threatened to become natural disaster counterprogramming to the wildfire blazing up north outside Yosemite National Park — frayed the nerves of a town already jittery after a year of labor unrest and a shaky national economy. Studios went into disaster mode, and certain businesses evacuated staffers to safer ground, although some showbiz workers continued as usual.

While it was most upsetting to those in Southern California who had never experienced a major shaker, most work on studio lots, in agency highrises and in network suites went on as usual. Studio security and facilities departments were initially poised to implement their disaster safety and evacuation plans, but there was no need for them.

The biggest hang-up was the lack of phone service immediately after the shaking stopped. Telco landlines and cell phone networks were so overloaded that the state’s office of emergency services asked residents to stop calling one another.

The quake, epicentered in Chino Hills, about 29 miles east of downtown L.A., temporarily disrupted certain businesses — think supermarkets and any biz with lots of stock on shelves.

The quake dominated the national news for a while — the nets were waiting to see if this was going to be the long-awaited sequel to Northridge ’94.

NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s Charles Gibson weighed in with quick special reports, and the quake dominated cable news for a while. Kate Hutton, star seismologist for the U.S. Geological Survey office at Caltech, was coolly reassuring as always in explaining what just happened and unflappable in answering the same question 50 times from drama-seeking journos about whether this was really only the trailer for a bigger blockbuster.

After a few hours, the material dried up so severely that local news channels were reduced to interviewing bystanders who talked of awnings that swayed but never fell. “Life goes on,” one hapless journo said in Canoga Park as residents blithely ate their lunches nearby.

(Cynthia Littleton in Hollywood and William Triplett in Washington contributed to this report.)

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