Designer of original ‘Sunday Morning’ set dead at 90: A look at his legacy
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The scenic designer who created the original “CBS Sunday Morning” set featuring freestanding glass panels and multiple raised platforms has died.
Victor Paganuzzi, 90, died Thursday, June 16, 2022, the network reported June 18, 2022.
According to CBS, the set was originally meant for a sports program with the idea to make talent look as if they were standing around a baseball diamond.
The show didn’t make it, but the concept was carried through to “Sunday Morning” when it debuted in 1979.
The original iteration of the set, built inside of CBS Broadcast Center’s Studio 45, featured multiple geometric raised platforms backed with glass panels that had a variety of imagery and typography affixed to them, including the show’s iconic sunrise logo and variations as well as the subject areas the show touched upon spelled out.
The set was, in many ways, almost a “non-set.”
“It wasn’t scenery that you were looking at. It was just there, almost floating across a horizon. It sort of echoed the feeling of what the show was all about,” Paganuzzi observed in an interview CBS conducted with him when he retired in 2011, adding that the set did not upstage the content of the show.
The entire space was backed with a lighted cyc, a common element in theater stage design but still relatively unused as a prominent fixture in broadcast news set design.
Other elements included movable tables that could tilt like a music stand for the host’s notes and the use of high stools.
Paganuzzi worked for CBS for 49 years and also designed sets for the “CBS Evening News” and the now-defunct “Face to Face” and “The Early Show.”
Prior to moving full-time to the news division, Paganuzzi created scenery for “The Jackie Gleason Show” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” the latter of which garnered him two Emmy nominations.
The look remained essentially the same, appearing behind the tenures of Charles Kuralt, Charles Osgood and Jane Pauley, the latter who remains host, until 2017 when the show was celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Jack Morton’s design built upon the original look while evolving it to meet the design aesthetic of the day — with more emphasis on frosted panels and gentle curves that introduced to a reworked dais and bases of select scenery.
CBS Sunday Morning
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Some of the freestanding panels got a notable technology update — becoming video screens that could be used to display imagery.
In 2020, due to a COVID-19 outbreak inside the building and growing concerns over the spread of the virus, “Sunday Morning,” like many shows, switched to remote production, with host segments taped inside Pauley’s home.
The show would eventually switch mostly to green screen chroma key production during the pandemic years, with Pauley depicted in front of an image of the set, some of which were based on photographs of the real set, with varying degrees of modifications.
Over the course of the pandemic, “Sunday Morning” would experiment with a variety of background images, including ones based on photographs of the set and others created using, at least partially, 3D renderings.
During the time the broadcast was mostly out of the studio, CBS installed a sports set mainly for Paramount+ streaming productions in Studio 45, sending off at least portions of the “Sunday Morning” set to storage.
The “Sunday Morning” set is, by its very nature, largely modular so it can break down easily into parts that can be moved around the studio and stowed in positions not seen on air to make room for other productions.
As of June 2022, “Sunday Morning” still features Pauley chroma keyed in front of an image of the studio for most episodes, with the part of the photo where the video panel was now able to support being fed a separate video source, such as for the “index” rundown graphic at the top of the show.
Pauley’s green screen setup has some noticeable lighting differences from the studio being depicted behind her and often doesn’t get the cleanest key.
The image in the background is often digitally modified with different seasonal decor, with varying degrees of realism, such as a changing collection of flowers that appear to be placed on the portion of the raised platform behind Pauley.
Special editions of the show, such as the November 2021 Thanksgiving food one, have ventured back into what appears to be a smaller studio space with lighted cyc and a few of the vertical units moved in behind her.
It’s not clear if “Sunday” will ever revert to the previous setup, though it likely would need to move to a new studio given the sports set now takes up much of its old footprint.
“Sunday Morning” had, for some time, shared space with the syndicated tabloid show “Inside Edition,” which has used a variety of virtual sets.
While taped in front of green screen, “Sunday Morning” does not appear to have a true virtual set — that is one based on a 3D model and set up with realtime switching between camera angles or easily allowing on-camera moves, despite that technology being available inside the broadcast center.
Besides “Inside Edition,” “60 Minutes” intros and outros are also produced in front of chroma key cyc setups that allows the network to insert the show’s iconic black backgrounds and graphic resembling a large, open magazine, behind correspondents.
Both of these shows are shot in studios outfitted with the technology needed to facilitate on-camera moves in conjunction with virtual backgrounds that can’t be easily accomplished with a simple, single camera chroma key setup, so it’s a bit puzzling why CBS hasn’t leveraged some of these spaces’ gear for “Sunday Morning” (or, at the very least, take advantage of just the chroma key cyc and lighting in these spaces).
Instead, “Sunday Morning” chroma key shots do not contain any motion and the key itself continues to be substandard quality, especially when compared to the clean ones “Inside Edition” and “60 Minutes” are able to accomplish.
It is not, however, immediately clear where Pauley’s chroma keyed segments are shot, so it’s possible they are being done remotely in a space not outfitted with full virtual set capabilities.
There may also be limitations, such as production schedules, that make it more difficult for “Sunday” to use a better lit green screen space inside the broadcast facility, assuming Pauley is coming into the building.