“It was a very turbulent time and we wanted to show a typical family growing up before seat belts,” admits “The Kids Are Alright” production designer Michael Whetstone about the 70’s setting of the ABC comedy series. Watch our exclusive video interview with him as adds, “Even though the show is in 1972 the Cleary family is stuck in the early 60’s and that’s reflected in the design of the house.”
“The Kids Are Alright” is a series about the working class Cleary family. The Irish Catholic family of eight kids is led by matriarch Peggy (Mary McCormack) and patriarch Mike (Michael Cudlitz). The story is told from the perspective of the fifth child Timmy (Jack Gore), who is based on the series creator and narrator Tim Doyle. Whetstone is the show’s production designer and has previously done the set designs for “New Girl,” “Wilfred” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
Whetstone explains that “the Cleary family is sort of a decade behind. That was reflected in when we were initially choosing color palettes for the show. When we’re on the inside of the Cleary house we have a certain color and camera movements. Then when we get outside you go from the rust and harvest gold world of the 60s and jump to the 70s with the bright yellows and oranges.”
On putting together the household he says, “The mom in 1972 was absolutely the central focus of the household. Physically we wanted Peggy’s space in the center. So the dining room not only has a dining table; it has her sowing things, an ironing board and the baby crib. It’s probably the most crowded 10 by 12 foot room on television.”
There was also an added challenge in designing the backyard. Whetstone explains, “We had budgeted to do it out of all fake greens. Most of the greenery you see in a TV show is fake. We decided early on to try and buy real trees and build an entire backyard of real trees. We realized we could try to do something different and hope, fingers crossed, they would survive a 23-episode season.”
On the role of production design in television Whetstone adds, “Whether I’m doing production design for a contemporary piece or a period piece, you don’t want things to jump out at the viewer. I try to create an environment that’s comfortable for the actors, has space for the camera, and for the viewers to feel, for 22 minutes, we’ve taken them to this world.” And that world in “The Kids Are Alright” is “one of a family stuck a decade behind the times and who go outside and feel they are in a turbulent time.”
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