A new local news set excites producers, anchors and news managers. It may even intrigue the audience, the hoped-for result. For the last thirty years, set redesigns have tended toward the shiny and the space-age, and rarely produce anything truly eye-opening.
Last week’s debut of WXIA’s new set was the exception. It has The Staircase.
The Staircase isn’t exactly the centerpiece of the new set. The set is a 360 degree ice-blue design that absorbs the entirety of the station’s modest studio, encroaching into the newsroom and making all of us random players in the mise-en-scene of the nightly news.
The centerpiece is a ginormous TV screen that dwarfs the presenter standing in front of it. It’s framed in neon and replaces a dozen or so HD sets that almost-but-not-quite delivered the illusion of one giant picture. We call it “the Wiz wall,” which is more about “-ometer” than it is about “gee.”
The Staircase is the oddity.
The construction started in early January. Denizens of the newsroom were beseeched to be patient amidst the buzzing of saws and the smell of paint. More than once, I had to temporarily evacuate my desk — located, it turns out, at a choke point for the ingress construction material and the egress of old-set discards. (The old set was shipped to a high school in Cleveland, Georgia.)
As the new set took shape, a balcony appeared. The previous set also had a balcony, but no way to get to it. For this balcony, a staircase appeared.
The staircase was suspect from the get-go. The steps stuck out of the wall, with no structure undergirding it. There was no handrail, giving it an edgy, hint-of-danger look. The same day, a memo went out: Do not, under any circumstances, climb on the staircase. It doesn’t support the weight of a human being.
As a reminder, a large sign was placed at its foot alongside an orange traffic cone. The sign is now a constant off-air presence.
As a design feature, The Staircase provides the illusion of height and depth and symbolizes our goals as a newsroom. Editorially, we strive for depth. Ratings-wise, it’s height. It’s a constant battle, into which our armies of newsfolk — at all TV stations — march each day.
As long as they stay off the stairs.