Over the years, the television newsroom has had its day in the spotlight. Network (1976), Broadcast News (1987), Apple TV’s new Morning Show, and even the satirical Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy have all depicted life in broadcast media. Next up is Bombshell, the star-fueled drama about the anchors who brought down one of the most powerful men at Fox News. Starring Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson, Margot Robbie as a fictional news associate producer, and John Lithgow as the larger-than-life chairman Roger Ailes, the drama portrays the infamously cutthroat workplace on the eve of the #MeToo movement.
Production designer Mark Ricker (Showtime's Escape at Dannemora) re-created the world of Fox News during the tumultuous period, taking cues from research since Rupert Murdoch’s media empire was unlikely to open its doors for scouting purposes. (Though the designer didn’t ask.) Looking at footage of the network shows, along with Twitter screengrabs of Fox News hosts Geraldo Rivera and Sean Hannity, provided initial inspiration. The designer also had an ace in the hole, as a former employee literally sketched a layout of the offices on a napkin.
Several floors of the Los Angeles Times building and West Hollywood’s Quixote Studios doubled as the offices, cubicles, boardrooms, and news sets of the Fox News headquarters in New York. “We found photos of the newsroom and replicated it from there,” says Ricker. “At the time, the basement of Fox housed the newsrooms and cubicles, and eventually everything was moved upstairs. I had an aha moment as I discovered that Kelly Live and The Real Story With Gretchen Carlson were all made at the same desk. It made it easier to do what we needed to do, and we made it all on the same set.”
As the story deals with a workplace where women were encouraged to dress a certain way and harassment for some was commonplace, director Jay Roach initially used the working film title The Lucite Desk. “It was a metaphor, as Lucite desks were used for the Fox anchors so the audience could see their legs," says the designer, who copied and created Fox's Lucite desks from scratch. Roach also compared the set designs to that of a “dollhouse,” in which glass-walled offices and conference rooms, along with open cubicles, created an environment where employees felt spied on. “Jay thought of the cubicles as a thematic device,” says the designer, noting that “the cubicles kept women in their places, as the rooms are like glass boxes.”
For the production design, accuracy was a key element, as every cubicle, desk, and even the art on the wall contributed to the faithful re-creation. “We wanted the sets to be as accurate as possible,” says Ricker, “and we didn’t want to add a layer of commentary one way or the other.” Taking realism to a new level and creating a combination of method acting by design, set decorator Ellen Brill (American Horror Story) filled the drawers of 38 cubicles with everything from Fox letterhead to personal items that only the actors would see. Brill worked with the graphics designer to ensure that things like the logo of The Kelly File were correct, and sourced 2015 computer monitors along with identical furniture from Target. Attention to detail was also paramount, as the audience sees glimpses of the offices of hosts Jeanine Pirro, Sean Hannity, and Geraldo Rivera with renderings and drawings that grace the walls. “Hannity had a whole wall filled with posters from both political parties, and we were like, ‘What is [Democrat] John Edwards doing on his wall?,’” reflects the designer on his research.
For Brill, one of the biggest challenges was re-creating the wardrobe closet that housed the colorful sheath dresses and nude heels synonymous with the female anchors. “Mark had us research the closet, and I thought, How am I going to do this?” she says. “It was all about bright rainbow-colored dresses—and all short. So I went to [the] Universal [prop house], and it was $3,000 a foot for dresses to rent. We ended up going to Goodwill and bought up all the sleeveless dresses and pumps.”
In addition to the news sets, the designers constructed Ailes’s corporate office and mansion in New Jersey. “Ailes built layers of security in his own office and had different [TV] programs on constantly,” comments Ricker, “and he had six big monitors in his office along with security cameras.” The designer notes that the Fox News chief had a penchant for Americana paintings (“they were like a patriotic LeRoy Neiman”), and, as luck would have it, they found the original artist, Steve Penley, who re-created works such as a colorful head of the Statue of Liberty for Ailes.
Creating Ailes's office decor also involved power dressing. “Research showed that Ailes had a fascination with American generals and the military, so we added a bookcase filled with history books and a painting of General George Patton in the corner of the room,” notes Ricker. Brill found the scale of the furnishings for his office to be a challenge, as Ailes was a man of girth: “John [Lithgow, who was heavily padded for the role] is a tall man, so we had to get Ailes’s chair just right.” A Malibu home that was, thankfully, saved from the recent fires doubles as his New Jersey family mansion, where little set dressing was involved, as Ailes had a penchant for its preexisting gold color scheme.
Bombshell hits the screen in a limited release (Los Angeles and New York) December 13 and nationwide on December 20.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest