Get Ready, Get Set, Go ‘Living’

Jul 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

It was a rainy June day in New York City and Bruce McKay, the executive producer of the upcoming syndicated talk show “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack,” was trying his hardest to be whimsical.
“`Whimsical’ is the word for TV shows this year,” Mr. McKay said as he reviewed designs for the show’s set. “You’re supposed to be whimsical.”
Rob Dauber, the show’s supervising producer, popped his head into Mr. McKay’s office with a bit of advice regarding the set: “Be careful with pink.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Mr. McKay, who had been frantically trading e-mail with set designer Mark Solan, the show’s director Debbie Miller and Mike Stornello, King World’s VP of development, in an attempt to reach a consensus about the set.
“You have 10 people looking at a set and you get 10 different opinions,” Mr. McKay said. “The set designer has to listen to all of us saying, `We want it to be warm and welcoming and whimsical,’ and then come up with something original because, of course, none of us want the set to look like anyone else’s.
Warming It Up
From the beginning Mr. McKay and Mr. Dauber had been committed to the idea of the set’s being an abstract rather than an identifiable place.
Mr. Stornello’s main concern was that the set be a warm and inviting place for women, since they would comprise the majority of the audience. When one of Mr. Solan’s first designs proposed a set made of dark wood, glass and stone, Mr. Stornello rejected it as being too masculine. Mr. Solan injected more pink into one of the sketches, but everybody agreed it didn’t work.
Coming up with a set that would serve various purposes was also a challenge. “If you create a space that looks like a pretty living room, and then Fleetwood Mac performs, it looks like they set up a TV show in their house,” Mr. Dauber said.
It was Mr. Solan’s job to listen to the group’s suggestions, formulate a cohesive vision and keep everybody happy. “I’ve been in situations where it was design by committee. The danger when everybody gets involved is that somebody is going to dislike something and all of the choices go away to nothing. The set becomes beige,” said Mr. Solan, who designed the set for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
And of course, everybody is coming at the decision from a different perspective. Mr. McKay and Mr. Stornello focused on how the overall appearance would appeal to viewers at home, while Ms. Miller, as the director, was more concerned about how she was going to shoot the show with any given set.
After four or five rounds of design, the group scrapped its initial concept and started from scratch. “After we threw out the idea of the set being abstract, I sat at my desk and shot out ideas and computer renderings of the set in e-mail, and by that afternoon people would respond to them,” Mr. Solan recalled.
Finally, on the morning of Saturday, June 7, after nearly six weeks of meeting with designers, reviewing drawings and reworking concepts, the members of the team had what Oprah Winfrey would call an “Aha! moment” when they looked at Mr. Solan’s final drawing.
So what did they finally settle on? A loft space, which is large enough to have a cooking area, a nook for intimate chats and a performance space. And most important, there’s no pink in the set, the construction of which began last week and is expected to be completed in the next two months.