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'Live!' Goes Live With New Set

After having its hosts sit on the same stools in the same studio since 1996, Disney/ABC Live! With Kelly unveils a new golden-hued set on April 9.

The catalyst for the change was twofold. WABC New York, with which Live! had always shared its Upper West Side studio at 66th Street and Columbus Avenue in New York City, moved last fall to a new street-side studio in the same complex, leaving more space for Live! to play with. Plus, plans to make changes were already in the works when Regis Philbin announced he was leaving the show.

“We began thinking about designing a whole new set for a whole new show,” says Michael Gelman, Live! executive producer.

When Gelman, set designer Michael Fagin and director Brian Chapman began discussing what they wanted out of the new set, they quickly surmised that accomplishing their goals—more depth to the stage, more width for more production space and more room for a larger audience— was a lot tougher than simply adding a few more rows and pushing back the walls a bit.

And while all of these changes were being made, “we didn’t want to lose the intimacy of our current studio,” says Gelman.

Fagin set to work, coming up with more than 30 designs over the course of the year.

“The great challenge was ! tting more people into the space,” he says. “Our studio is a long, narrow rectangle. To get the number of [audience members] we were looking to fit in and meet these other requirements was a real challenge. We looked at the box from every angle.”

Previously, the Live! stage ran along the rectangle’s diagonal, allowing it to occupy a wide area, but only allowing for a small audience. What’s more, due to sharing the space with WABC’s local news and being a live show, set changes to accommodate music acts or cooking segments had to be completed within twoand- a-half minute commercial breaks.

To solve the space problem, Fagin decided to position the stage lengthwise, giving it maximum width while still preserving depth. Then Fagin added a mezzanine to accommodate a larger audience.

Some parts of the old set will be preserved, including the feel of being inside a New York home, but the new set will feel more like a downtown loft than an Upper West Side apartment. And Kelly—and whomever sits beside her—will still sit on stools.

“That’s kind of our signature,” says Gelman.

The rest of the set will be surrounded by technology. A solid wall of ultra-thin high-de! nition monitors, the bezels of which are only 1/16th of an inch wide, will sit behind the hosts, allowing producers to use several screens at once or combine the screens to form one giant image.

“There is also a lot of LED technology built into the walls,” says Gelman, which will enable producers to change lighting on the fly.

Live! continues to try out cohosts, with Jerry O’Connell, Mark Consuelos, The Bachelor’s Chris Harrison and ABC News’ Dan Abrams all appearing recently. The show’s ratings have held up in Philbin’s absence, taking the pressure off finding a replacement quickly, says Gelman.

“We are happy with how this transition has gone, but it’s not going to go on forever,” he says. “Our whole thing is that we’re a family, so it’s important for the audience that we have a steady presence on the show every day.”

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