CNN attempts to create studio ‘courtroom’ for ‘Primetime’

CNN Primetime” attempted to recreate a courtroom look in the former home of “New Day” March 1, 2023.

In keeping with its new strategy of covering a different topic each night at 9 p.m. instead of opinion and analysis-driven programming, legal correspondent Lauren Coates hosted an hour of coverage devoted to the Alex Murdaugh Murder trial.

As of the airing, the trial was getting ready to be handed over to the jury — so producers decided to format the show around seven guests.

Two represented the defense angle of the story, two the prosecution and three were the “jury.”

The program originated from Studio 19Y in the network’s Hudson Yards building in New York. 

The jury was situated on the square riser normally used for the studio’s anchor desk.

CNN opted to make these guests sit inside of a jury box — in reality, a three-sided knee wall-like structure with a dark wood finish.


Ultimately, however, the effect came off as looking a bit like a skit on “Saturday Night Live,” likely due to a combination of the temporary-look of the structure, its relative scale to the surrounding scenery and that its height was perhaps a bit too tall, creating the effect that grown adults were sitting at the “big kids” table.

Meanwhile, two desk-like high units in a similar wood tone were brought in for the remaining guests representing each side of the case to sit behind. These were positioned on the other side of the studio in front of the space’s large curved LED panel. 

While the height of these tables suited the guests better, their rather narrow profile and inconsistent positioning prevented them from really feeling like something in a court room.

Studio 19Y, like many of CNN’s sets, happens to feature multiple seamless video walls in addition to smaller displays.

For these, the network took the nightscape look from the “CNN Primetime” open that debuted Feb. 28, 2023, and filled most of the video walls seen on camera with a similar look.

Mixed in were simulated wood knee walls and vertical panels, making them virtual set extensions in some ways. Unfortunately, the quality of the imagery didn’t hold up well and the effect ended up being rather distracting.

Other smaller panels were used to display various images of legal imagery. Similar pictures were added to some of the simulated wood walls on the seamless arrays, along with repeating CNN logos.

Coates spent the special standing, moving around the space between the jury and other guests. She could also move closer to whoever was speaking, which brought a good sense of energy and interactivity to the program — perhaps a hint of what the “CNN News Central” format might look like.

She also used the wall-mounted video wall display located between the two ends of the studio for both topical imagery and tossing to a live update on the trial near the top of the show. 

Many of these shots appeared to be captured using a high camera such as a jib, while handheld shots were also heavily used.


While it’s worth giving CNN credit for attempting to convey the theme of a trial and that it also did not have significant time to build scenic elements, the entire effect largely felt unnecessary and overly-themed. Even though the elements brought in for the production were very minimal compared to all the other on-screen visuals, they largely managed to still stand out a bit too much.

It’s also worth noting that CNN is having to juggle studio space at the moment. Studio 17N hasn’t been seen on air in months.

The network won’t confirm what’s going on there, but it is known that it is building new spaces for both “CNN News Central” and “CNN This Morning,” its new morning show that replaced “New Day.”

“This Morning” has been broadcasting down the hall from 19Y in Studio 19X. 19X was originally designed to be flexible enough to use for a variety of formats, including town halls with studio audiences as well as anchored shows, interviews and more.

A diagram showing the moving video and other scenic elements in CNN’s Studio 19X.

Once it moves into its promised new home, wherever that may be, that could free up space for “Primetime” specials to use. 19X is also stocked heavily with seamless LED video walls and other scenery, many of which can slide around on tracks or wheels and could end up being a better option for shows that need a unique look.

That said, “This Morning” has been using the video walls to backgrounds meant to simulate, at least on some level, hard scenery — with a variety of designs attempting to make it appear the walls are wood or made from other colored surfaces or slats. Backgrounds also feature what could be considered a simulated window overlooking a composite of cityscapes from across the U.S.

In 2022, U.S. Congressman Greg Steube confused this video all background as being a real part of the U.S. Capitol. CNN took an image of the space, added the header and red side panels and put it behind its anchors in a Washington, D.C. studio, leading to the confusion

CNN has favored using similar simulated backgrounds in the past, including often creating a narrow header element designed to look like part of the hard set above anchors on the video wall. 

New creatives developed since Chris Licht took over seem to continue the theme of using more textural, dimensional and glassy elements and typography with bolder gradients and fills, including both the “This Morning” graphics and “Primetime” open. 

Using these largely risks encroaching on the “WordArt” look made infamous by Microsoft or an overuse of Adobe Photoshop’s pattern overlay, bevel and emboss layer effects, which could end up coming across as dated.

Licht is reportedly also considering a redesign of the network’s insert graphics, which currently use a cleaner, flatter look.