Created by Jay Carson and Kerry Ehrin, the drama centers on a popular breakfast news program broadcast out of New York, which is rocked to its core when one of its longtime anchors is fired, due to accusations of sexual misconduct.
An Emmy nominee behind such prestige series as Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies, Paino is always compelled by the notion of a new design challenge. In the case of The Morning Show, the challenge was to put his personal touch on a kind of set that feels ubiquitous, bringing out all the special, little details within a space that might otherwise be taken for granted.
“It’s almost like, how do you do the war room? Every designer wants to do a war room that bests Ken Adam’s war room from Dr. Strangelove, right? That’s the icon,” Paino says. “To me, this wasn’t exactly the war room, but it was something people grow up with. Everyone has watched these shows, so here’s an opportunity to do something new.”
In crafting the set of The Morning Show, the designer had two primary goals. “Realism was the key, but then also to design a set that shows the influence of electronic media—how you can have a set that’s just all LEDs, and how that technology of seeing things on screens affects everything,” he says. “When the show was coming together in New York, they just started to put up those kiosks with LED screens in them. So, to me, that was a very good symbol for the way the set should go, always having that screen glow in everything.”
Visiting the sets of The Today Show and Good Morning America in his research prior to production, Paino hoped to evoke the interesting mix of entertainment and news that defines these kinds of programs, juxtaposing at the same time elements of the magical and the mundane. “One big theme—and I think this goes across the board, with everything that has to do with ‘show business’—is that time stands still when you walk on that set. It’s like Disneyland. But when you walk off it, the coffee is cold,” he explains. “We wanted to make sure everything [behind the scenes] was the exact opposite of the façade of the show.”
Given all the technology involved in bringing The Morning Show’s set to life, the series proved to be “one of the most technically complicated” Paino has ever designed. Between the anchor desk, the LED backdrops and the control room, every element seen in the show functioned as it would on a real morning show. “We had live feed, and recorded feeds, and news feeds coming from our control room right into the set,” he says. “We didn’t have any green screen in our control room, or on any of our monitors, so we made sure that we had enough news assets to play in playback, and that there was live feed from the stage.”
Collaborating with cinematographer Michael Grady on the pilot, to perfect the lighting integrated into the set, Paino was put through his paces in the process. “We had great playback people who had worked on The Newsroom, the same folks who had wired that up. But it was a lot of testing. Not only did we have LEDs in the sets, but all of the monitors in the control room had to be tested. I believe that Apple wanted to shoot 8K, so we had to make sure everything worked for that,” he shares. “We also had actual broadcast cameras on peds, shooting the show. So, it was a lot of testing everything, and a lot of dry runs.”
What’s even more impressive about The Morning Show’s set, and its peripheral components, is that they were all laid out contiguously, as they would be in real life. “It was all as if you were at 30 Rock,” Paino says, “so you could walk from our set into the hallways, into the control rooms, into the dressing rooms, the green rooms.”
Ultimately, there were just a couple of key alterations to the set, distinguishing it from that of a real news program, which were made for both practical and stylistic reasons. Tapping into the high energy, run-and-gun nature of work in this world, The Morning Show often features the walk-and-talk scene. Thus, the hallways adjacent to the set would have to be expanded, to accommodate the camera team. “We added a lot of windows and glass portals to facilitate shots,” Paino says. “It was a little more open because the buildings that these shows take place in were designed for radio in the ’20s, and they didn’t have that kind of stuff.”
The aforementioned windows and glass panels also served to reinforce the designer’s central visual motif. “It’s really great and sexy,” he says. “Again, it’s that layer of façade, when you see reflections of people and TV screens in the glass.”
Apart from the set for The Morning Show, one of the series’ most notable environments is the mansion of anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston), which looks across the water at Manhattan. The look of this space reflected the portrait of New York Paino had in mind for the series as a whole. “To me, New York is a vertical city, and [in] a lot of shows, you see sets in New York where everything is horizontal,” the New York native says. “So, I wanted to pitch this idea of her being in a kind of glass tower, with this sense of screens and translucency, hiding behind the glass wall, and make it feel like it was actually vertical.”
The specific inspiration for this set was one particular edifice that sits along New York’s West Side Highway. “There’s this great Richard Meier building. He didn’t build a lot of residential skyscrapers in New York—maybe two or three. This is one of them,” Paino says. “It feels like a fortress of solitude for [Alex]. It’s also in a really interesting part of town—like the new, hip area where someone like her would be.”
Interestingly, while The Morning Show is very much a New York series, Paino only shot in the state for three or four days in Season 1, with much of production taking place in and around Los Angeles. “We had a really good locations department, and we were able to find some precious streets in LA, and one really great street in downtown LA, where we positioned our network building, the UBA building,” the designer says. “That was an older ’60s skyscraper-type building that felt like it would be in the ’50s in Midtown, or Upper Midtown in Manhattan, which worked out really great.
“We redressed the front with a lot of translights. We put a lot of translights in the first floor of this building, and LED screens in the big windows,” he adds. “That, again, was the motif I was talking about: Everything reflected in a TV screen, or with the glow of a phone.”
For Paino, the highlight of the Morning Show experience was the degree of verisimilitude the series’ team achieved, in depicting the high-pressure subculture of morning news. “We actually had a couple of the directors from The Today Show who came by, and said this was just a fantastic recreation of everything, but also in a heightened way, in a bit of a stylized way,” he shares. “That’s always the greatest thing, where it feels realistic, it’s not too much on the nose, but you get a kind of dazzle. I think we added a dazzle where it needed to be.”