Emmys: 'Veep,' 'House of Cards' Set Designers Reveal Secrets Behind Their Shows' Oval Offices

'Saturday Night Live' also tackled politics by re-creating the crowded Republican debates, which proved challenging: "There were so many candidates that we had a hard time squeezing them onto the set."
HBO
'Veep'

Veep (HBO)

"Last season we had a whole West Wing/Oval Office complex that we built. It was about 170 feet long by 70 feet wide, with the Oval Office, Roosevelt Room, press briefing room, multiple offices and lots of hallways — we have lots of people walking and talking," says production designer Jim Gloster. "We went for reality. Selina [Julia Louis-Dreyfus] inherited the Oval Office, so the concept was that [its look] was from the previous administration. We did a whole episode where she wasn't allowed to spend any money, so we gave her more personality in her residence — softer color choices, fabric choices, wallpaper — to show the dichotomy with her character. Her character can be so mean, but we wanted to show the softer side of her as well. We emphasized that side of her, the opposite of the harsh reality where she has to be in charge."

House of Cards (Netflix)

"Anytime a new president is inaugurated, they get to choose from a bunch of pieces that are in the White House collections and add their own special touches," says House of Cards production designer Steve Arnold. "When Frank Underwood [Kevin Spacey] became president, we changed the dressing of the Oval Office to a degree. We kept the desk, changed the drapery and changed the color and artwork. Originally it had a yellow, warmer color; I made it gray and much colder to reflect his character. And we put in small elements that were a little more in keeping with his fierce character — things like some cannon bookends. He had an interest in the Civil War."

Saturday Night Live (NBC)

"We look forward to these political years — the comedy writes itself," says production designer Eugene Lee, who has worked on SNL since the show debuted in 1975. This election year, he says the Republican debate set proved most challenging. "There were so many candidates that we had a hard time squeezing them onto the set. That was unusual — we never had that happen before. They could reach out and touch each other." The goal was for the set to look real. "We don't do funny scenery too much — it should stay in the background. If you're laughing at the scenery [it detracts from the performance]."

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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