The Message

The Joy of Sets

From the beginning, size mattered, and to get ideas about expanding the scope of the set and graphics, a 35mm-film crew was employed to film Denver from the air. This footage was studied closely, as was "local architecture: the airport, the art museum, the library downtown," Hayek says. "It didn't take long to realize that it's a beautiful city, with this incredible natural backdrop and architecture that gave it a feel of contemporary life."

Cushing believes the various anchor desks resonate with this sense of modernity, and they are ergonomically correct as well. "We didn't build furniture and put people on it. We built the talent into it. It was built with shots in mind so we could get it to work with all the camera angles."

"It shoots bigger because the camera causes it to look larger than it is," Hayek points out. "The space isn't appreciably different than it was with the old set, but the usage is. Everything relates back to the anchors, but at the same time, it feels open and airy -- spacious."

The 4 corps: Jim Hayek, Krista Brunson and Ed 
Cushing have designs on TV news.
Brett Amole
The 4 corps: Jim Hayek, Krista Brunson and Ed Cushing have designs on TV news.

To prevent buildings from putting a crimp in things, Hayek and company eventually decided not to utilize a skyline in their design -- a major break with TV-news tradition. "There was great debate about a cityscape," Cushing allows, "but it was a very conscious decision. We met with people from Denver and from all over Colorado, and we kept hearing the same thing: As cool as this city is, it's all about the mountains."

The final set isn't. Sure, representations of peaks run the length of the main backdrop, but they're far from towering. Although they jut modestly into wide shots during most newscasts, they tend to dissolve into others because their predominant color matches the backdrop's primary shade. Smiling, Brunson refers to the tone as "CBS blue."

Adds Hayek, "It's not a traditional blue. We made an effort not to have the same blue as everyone else has."

Indeed, the hue is lighter, subtler than the blues used by other local stations, and there's a lot more of it. Whereas Channel 9, for example, supplements its blue with reds and other hues, Channel 4 is nearly monochromatic. Hayek feels the all-encompassing quality of this blue move echoes another aspect of Colorado life. "There are over 300 days of sunshine and blue sky surrounding you here," he says, divulging that the gang of three "researched skies in different parts of the world" to arrive at the final blend. Another benefit is the way the blue showcases on-air talent. "It really brings out the skin tones," Hayek stresses. "Skin tones are warm; blue is cool. People look great against it. It makes them feel more healthy and vibrant."

That goes for everyone. In August, Denver Post television columnist Joanne Ostrow wrote that the blue "provides good contrast for (white) skin tones." Cushing says that comment "personally offended me. Erika Lewis [an African-American anchor/ reporter] looks terrific against the blue. And both Oprah and Dr. Phil have blue on their sets. It works well for them, and they don't happen to be the same color."

These effects are intensified by close-ups that have gotten even closer since the new set was installed; the tighter shots are intended to focus more intimately on personnel, prevent the blue from being too overpowering and further differentiate Channel 4 from its competitors. As a result, eyes seem to pop out of the screen in ways that vary from person to person. Anchor Tony Lopez's brown irises look enormous, almost blotting out the whites of his eyes. In contrast, the blue eyes of weekend anchor Kathy Walsh and Hughes seem to glow in ways that even Brunson didn't anticipate. "I knew Molly had blue eyes," she says, "but I didn't know she had those blue eyes."

Blue clothes were more of a problem. "This is something I talked to Angie about," Hayek concedes. "We need to please keep the anchors clear of blue, because it can be too much of a good thing."

"When the anchors first saw the set," Brunson notes, "they were saying, 'Oh, my gosh. I can't wear that anymore. And that. And that.'"

The color games continued when it came to the station logo; in the end, everyone went for gold because of the way it interacted with the blue. More important, the logo itself was switched from "News 4" to "CBS 4" -- a seemingly minor distinction that came about only after much brainstorming and soul-searching.

The "News 4" handle bothered DeHaven, because it was being used for station branding even in "Companies for Colorado" commercials that made it seem as if advertisers were being endorsed by the news department. Channel 4's previous general manager, Marv Rockford, defended the practice in these pages ("When Trouble Strikes Back," January 27, 2000), but DeHaven says, "I didn't like the thought that I had a logo and a brand attached to my news that very innocently was being spread into other areas that didn't make sense. I thought it was a muddled message." At the same time, he believed that the connection between Channel 4 and CBS, presently the most-watched major network, wasn't being emphasized strongly enough. As DeHaven puts it, "The CBS brand is one of the most recognizable in the world, and it just makes sense that if you have a brand associated with great things, you should use it. And if you look at it practically, the stations around the country that brand themselves hardest with their network tend to be the most successful."

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