Ready, SET…

by Miles Leicher

Go ahead and take a closer look at the show tonight than you normally would. In addition to the pretty faces of Bill Maher, Alexandra Pelosi, David Frum, Rob Reiner and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz – not to mention Herman Cain – you may notice that our set is looking rather handsome as well. That’s due largely to the hard work of Real Time’s Co-Executive Producer, Dean Johnsen, and Set Designer, John Yeck. They’ve spent the last few months planning and implementing a few subtle changes to the Real Time set that you know and love.

I sat down with Dean and John on the eve of the premiere to talk about the changes. Here’s what to look for:

Miles Leicher: How different is the set now from season one? John, didn’t you design Real Time’s first set?

John Yeck: If memory serves me correctly, I do think that I was around in the beginning of this show. I think that there are many people in the audience who probably don’t realize the set has changed. I know for a fact that my therapist – who is an avid watcher of the show – didn’t realize that the set had changed over the years.

Miles: Is there a certain saying that the producers always use when they change the set?

John: You know, “It’s not a revolution…it’s an evolution.”

Miles: So the set keeps evolving in real time?

John: In real time, much the way the show evolves.

Miles: There seem to be many layers in the design…what were you going for there?

John: It’s transparent, much like the conversation in the show, where you get to see deeper into the guests and into their thoughts and their views; the set reflects that.

Dean Johnsen: If you’re looking at the set, you’ll see that there’s a lot of structure in front of other structure. We wanted to create the feeling that you’re actually seeing through all these parts. In fact, we kicked around an idea on the old set: we weren’t going to have any background – you would just see to the back of the actual raw building and it would be, like, pulleys and curtains and weights and stuff like that.

John: Exactly. We were going to bare the skeleton of the studio. We were going to “keep it real.”

Dean: So while other shows were doing things with projection screens and big, fancy set pieces, our goal to kind of work against that and be more stark and more real and more raw, because we felt that was reflective of Bill’s personality and was more to the point of what we wanted our show to be. We didn’t want to be super showbiz-y; we wanted to be unvarnished.

The set looks really nice, but it’s very, very simple and the main three pieces have not changed at all since the first season, except for a new coat of paint now and then.

Miles: So for people tuning in to the Season 10 premiere of Real Time, what are they going to notice that’s different. Or rather, what should they notice?

John: Some people aren’t going to notice that anything is different, you know, but there are going to be little hints: some added splashes of color that tip our cap to the political season. We’ve added some red and indigo with our blue lighting and cherry wood. We’ve also added some red accents with new LED lighting that allows us to make the center of the trilons change colors. And some added moments for when Bill walks out, as well as for the mid-show guest entrance.

Dean: Also keep your eyes peeled – and we’re still at this hour figuring out how to do it – but the map behind Bill will be interactive with the political season. Before, it was just a blue-ish looking sort of scrim that held the blue light kind of nicely and in the past we’ve even projected an American flag onto it. This year it’s Plexiglas and, as we go through the primary season and each state has had their Republican primary, we will give that state a red outline. Then, when we get into the general election, the goal right now – and that could shift – is that we’ll do a red state/blue state thing…

John: And it’ll reflect where the current polling is across the country.

Dean: So states can change – and we’re not going to “John King” style it, where we point to it – but if you’re a viewer that likes to notice all that little detail, that’ll be something that you can track every week. Pay attention to the map behind Bill, because we will be changing it.

Miles: A little “Easter egg” of sorts?

John: Yep.

Dean: It’s an Easter egg for real fans!

Check out the new set during the Real Time premiere and let us know what you think! Leave a comment below or tweet us @RealTimers