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The Morning Show, Lessons in Chemistry: Building Show Within Show

The Morning Show, Lessons in Chemistry: Building Show Within Show

The Morning Show, Lessons in Chemistry: Building Show Within Show

Cooking Up Something New

Brie Larson in Lessons in Chemistry

Apple TV+ Courtesy Everett Collection

When Cat Smith first started conceptualizing the set for Lessons in Chemistry’s fictional cooking show Supper at Six, hosted by former chemist Elizabeth Zott (Brie Larson), she designed a typical 1960s housewife Colonial-style kitchen, complete with oak paneling and black wrought-iron hinges. Then she scrapped it.

“The idea that Brie presented to me was that it should really be what a man thinks a woman likes, and that changed the whole thing for me,” says the production designer for the Apple TV+ series. 

Enter the monochromatic pale pink kitchen with powder blue trimmings, scalloped moldings and red cherry wallpaper that made it onscreen. “I did a little bit of the Hollywood Regency style because in TV in general, you try to exaggerate the form a little bit because it’s easier to read on camera, but also, that was a really popular style at the time,” Smith explains. “It gives it a little bit of fake glamour, which is what a guy thinks a woman wants.”

In contrast, Zott’s backstage area, where she muddles over the personally conflicting demands network bosses put on her, was intentionally toned down. “The dressing room I based on Lucille Ball’s dressing room because in today’s world you imagine dressing rooms being glam, you hear about people wanting big, elaborate trailers and things like that, but back then it was just a little teeny room with a mirror and that was it.”

A window in the dressing room allowed Zott to look out onto the set of her show over which she increasingly fought for more creative control, while the production office nearby was the domain of the male execs. Smith designed the space to mimic repurposed 1940s New York and L.A. radio stations, signifying the dawn of the age of television. The posters lining the walls were of real TV shows from the time period.

“I’m really proud of the production office because my grandfather worked as a grip on The Lucy Show,” says Smith. “For a moment, I could feel what it was like to walk through a studio like that.”

The Inside Scoop

Stéphane Collonge had to get creative in more ways than one when he signed on as the production designer for Scoop, the British biographical drama retelling of how journalist Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) secured the 2019 BBC Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) discussing his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and allegations of sexual assault of a minor.

“It’s really hard to get floor plans for any room in Buckingham Palace,” Collonge says of where the damning interview took place. “The BBC wasn’t easy, either. We had to re-create Newsnight just as much as we had to re-create the world of the palace, and both were quite tricky. It was sort of forensic research.”

And a bit of resourcefulness. “We snuck in the palace, and we snuck into the BBC,” he confesses. 

Collonge had to rely on memory more than anything when he went on a tour of Buckingham Palace, though a stroke of luck at the royal London residence gave him unexpected insight.

“What was really special that day was because the palace is such a vast and ancient piece of architecture, they’re always fixing something. So we got very near the south drawing room, where the interview was held, because that month we could only access the staterooms — which are the grandest part of the palace — through a route that is usually the backstage of the palace, so we saw all around the room.

“We did the same thing with the BBC,” Collonge adds. “We couldn’t take any pictures. A friend got us in and literally pushed us through, and I reconstructed the spaces from those quick visits and then lots of cross-referencing.”

Though Collonge was confident in his re-creations — particularly the liberties he took to scale the furnishings in the constructed drawing room for the film’s wide-angle shots — he felt most affirmed when the adviser to The Crown visited the set of the Netflix film. “I was really nervous because having worked 20 years in the actual Buckingham Palace, he was the ultimate authority,” Collonge notes. “As a production designer, it’s my duty to make it cinematic, so I changed quite a lot of things, but he came to me and he said, ‘I’m blown away,’ and that was the most amazing compliment.”

A Different News Cycle

Reese Witherspoon on The Morning Show

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Erin Simkin/Apple TV+/Courtesy Everett Collection

As Nelson Coates has experienced on the set of The Morning Show for three seasons now, developing the creative for a fictional news program requires just as much effort as doing it for the real thing. 

“With The Morning Show, you’re not only creating the look, but you’re branding the marketing of the fake shows within the show,” says the production designer for the Apple TV+ drama who just so happened to dual major in premed and journalism/mass communications in college. “As time goes by, just like a real network, everything is changing. New shows are being launched. So we’re coming up with the posters and the advertising that’s on the streets and buses and all those things.”

That aspect of the show grew exponentially this season with Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) joining UBA Evening News and Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) launching the UBA+ streaming show Alex Unfiltered, both of which required new builds. 

Explains Coates of the UBA Evening News set for which he constructed a modern design featuring 3-foot-tall laser water-cut initials of the program, which the camera shoots through from behind: “I situated the desk on an angle to create a little more energy within the news desk, and the door to her dressing room is on that same angle, so as we speed across, it’s like she’s coming out and marching to battle the very first time she’s on the news.” 

For Alex Unfiltered, Coates designed a more stripped-down set that’s in line with Levy’s goal of being seen as a credible reporter who gets to the core of important issues. Leaning into her love of Broadway, Coates came up with the idea to create her set in the backstage of a theater. “The irony of this is that as she’s on her little stage in this backstage area, you pull away and you realize that it’s a fake backstage of a theater,” he explains. “She can’t even be truthful when she’s trying to be truthful.”

The Morning Show’s season three finale foreshadowed more shake-ups at the news network, which could mean even more rebranding to come. But Coates, who spoke to THR while scouting locations for the series’ upcoming fourth season, isn’t one to leak information to the media.

“I can’t tell you what’s in it,” he says of the season four script, “but I can only tell you that anyone who’s already a fan of the show is going to eat it up.” 

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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