Skip to main content

NewscatingNews Sets On A Budget

If you’re like most TV news operations, when it’s time to update the on-air look, it’s out with the old set and in with the new. But with equipment and transmission upgrades dominating today’s budgets, the last project station management wants to spend money on is new set construction.

Steve Johnson, news director at WCIV, in Charleston, SC, recently faced this very problem. “We weren’t happy with the old environment,” he said. “It was too dark. It didn’t feel contemporary.”

In fact, WCIV’s news set was supposed to look dark and old-fashioned. Its red brick and wrought iron accents were designed to reflect Charleston’s historic heritage. Unfortunately, being antique and quaint wasn’t the right image for the station’s news team.

Johnson had less than $10,000 to upgrade his set, so he turned to Tim Wilson, a former cameraman turned set designer, to come up with an on-air renovation plan.

“I’ve spent my whole career in TV on the cheap end, trying to think of ways of doing a lot without a lot of money,” said Wilson, owner of News Environments in La Mesa, CA. “The days of quarter-million-dollar sets are over. Stations are starting to face up to this. Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do with paint and Formica.”

In this case, revitalizing WCIV’s set started with a change in color. The brick reds and dark tones were banished. In their place, Wilson used blues, grays, gold, and the warm look of cherry wood (actually low-cost, cherry toned Formica).

Next, Wilson simplified WCIV’s set by removing whatever he could, including the wrought iron accents over the sports area. Those brick elements that couldn’t be removed (including the anchor desk) were toned down using three shades of gray paint. He also added blue and brushed silver horizontal metal bands across the anchor desk’s front face to make the brick recede into the background.

Finally, the behind-the-anchor photo Duratrans image was replaced with a computer-rendered picture of the new Cooper River Bridge. Based on an architectural drawing (the bridge is actually still under construction), this image “represents the future of Charleston, rather than the past,” according to Johnson. “That’s the kind of image we want associated with our news department.”

By renovating rather than replacing, Wilson kept WCIV’s costs under control. He also kept them down by designing the project on computer, emailing his ideas to Johnson, and then working back and forth until a final version was approved. Finally, the actual work was done by Johnson himself and a couple of WCIV production staffers. “The only outside help we needed was an expert to install the Formica,” Johnson said.

Today, WCIV has the clean-looking news set it wanted, at a price it can afford. “The new set is less cluttered and easier on the eyes,” said Johnson. “This experience taught me that you don’t have to go to a custom set designer to accomplish a new on-air look. It’s so easy to have someone like Tim redesign it on their computer, then email you the specs.”

Double Duty

Of course, there are times when rebuilding can’t be avoided. In those instances, one way to save money is to re-use as much of the old set as possible, or to design it to support more than one program.

As for broadcasters with twin-stick duopolies? Well, Devlin Design Group (DDG) has a viable solution, as proven by its work for Boston’s WBZ/WSBK.

The challenge was that both stations needed new, distinctive news sets. Yet money was a concern: Building two separate sets just wasn’t affordable. DDG’s answer: to create one set with multiple backgrounds and a rotating anchor desk.

When WBZ news is on air, the desk is positioned with one backdrop. When it’s time for WSBK’s newscast, the desk is rotated and presto—an entirely different on-air look is created.

“DDG has done a terrific job of creating the perfect duopoly set of the future,” said Peter Brown, WBZ’s news director. “With multiple backgrounds and a rotating anchor desk, we can achieve significantly different looks for both WBZ and WSBK.”

“A fusion of architectural and graphical elements were utilized and combined with light and projections to convey different looks for different shows,” said Dan Devlin, DDG’s creative director. “DDG worked closely with WBZ to address the need to broadcast two distinct news looks from one studio.”

> Devlin Design Group
> News Environments