John Paino Interview: ‘The Morning Show’ production designer
The set of “The Morning Show’s” show-within-a-show is a bright, sleek, high-tech space, befitting a series that airs on Apple TV+. But, believe it or not, according to production designer John Paino, the tech giant had no say in “The Morning Show’s” primary stomping grounds looking like a computer screen brought to life. “This is going to be hard to believe, but I thought Apple would want it to look sleek and app-like, but they actually didn’t say anything or didn’t say, ‘I would suggest…’” Paino told Gold Derby (watch the exclusive video above). “That didn’t happen at all.”
Paino, whose credits include “The Leftovers,” “Big Little Lies” and “Sharp Objects,” conceived of the lustrous look himself after researching old morning shows and touring “Good Morning America” and “Today.” In his research, he learned how sets have evolved over the years, going from “a phase where these things were more like talk shows where they were just like one long commercial for Vitamix” to “a weird mix of a living room and an interview set” in the ’70s and ’80s.”
While at “Today,” Paino took note of the show’s deft balance of entertainment and news, which is one of “The Morning Show’s” themes, as Reese Witherspoon‘s character Bradley Jackson repeatedly scoffs at the puff pieces the show airs.
“Most people get everything on their phone or their iPad, or you’re walking down the street and you’ll see LED screens and they all have rounded corners. They all feel like apps. So it’s coincidental that, yes, Apple invented the app and everything, but going to the ‘Today’ show, we were all really struck by [how] that show is a really great mix of entertainment and news,” Paino recalled. “The big LEDs and the curvatures of things was a big influence, and I thought it was something good to embrace because we also wanted to seem like if you were switching channels, and you just saw our set, you’d go, ‘OK, I believe this could be a morning show.'”
The centerpiece of the set is the anchor desk, a petite, round Plexiglass table that is far smaller than the typical long, wide desks on morning shows. The inspiration for the design came from brainstorming associations with morning shows. “We thought maybe we’d make it to resemble a coffee cup a little bit or a teacup. And again, we just followed the arc and the ellipse of what else is going on on the stage,” Paino explained.
He also wanted it to be see-through to add to the glowy aesthetic of the set and to play off the notion that “these people are coming into your living room, they’re transparent, they’re like your uncle who shows up and has a cup of coffee.” A certain level of irony, of course, since Alex Levy’s (Jennifer Aniston) original co-anchor, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), was fired over sexual misconduct allegations.
The desk was made by a company that manufactures airplane canopies because of the specific shape of it. “We couldn’t get a regular fabricator to make it because it’s a curve that’s going in three dimensions and it’s consistently the same diameter, the thickness of the Plexiglass,” Paino revealed.
While the front-facing “Morning Show” is modern and new, off-camera, it’s anything but. To convey verisimilitude of a long-running show, Paino built unassuming small quarters — because these shows are typically filmed in buildings that were constructed in the 1920s and ’30s for radio — for the backstage areas, the control room, hallways, dressing rooms, etc. and crammed them with cables, papers, coffee cups and various supplies. “Every niche we tried to put something, whether it’s a coffee machine or a pile of papers or a box of Xerox papers,” Paino shared. “We did also want to have the set feel like Disneyland and the worker bees are in the back, especially in the control room, where the show is being made. That is where that veneer of reality is more prevalent.”
He added: “Our show is reality-based. Even though it’s a gilded reality, it’s reality-based nonetheless.”
Due to scheduling conflicts, Paino won’t be returning for Season 2, which is currently in pre-production, but he’s excited to see how his successor builds upon his and create their own designs. “It’s so prevalent and topical right now — this crucible of the morning news, this condensed crucible of what’s happening in entertainment for women, for men, for minorities, so it’s a fascinating place to set stories,” he said. “And I’m sure the second season will be really interesting.”