Back in December, ABC aired the second installment of Live in Front of a Studio Audience, a variety special that recreated a pair of classic Norman Lear sitcoms, which were performed back-to-back with an ensemble cast of Hollywood A-listers. While the scripts were word-for-word, aside from a few flubs, not everything was a painstaking recreation, as production designer Bernard Vyzga explained.
Vyzga's worked in television since the 1980s on sitcoms like Who's the Boss and Married... with Children, and more recently, shows like One Day at a Time and Last Man Standing. Speaking with PopCulture.com, Vyzga revealed that certain changes had to be made when building these retro-sitcom sets, most of which involved starting from scratch. "Very little of the existing sets or props were in storage," he said. "In fact, we recreated specifically the All in the Family chairs, Archie and Edith's chairs. The originals are in the Smithsonian."
Like the first Live, which aired in May of 2019, the second installment featured an episode of All in the Family, which meant they were able to reuse much of the set they had already. However, Vyzga explained that everything for Good Times had to be built from scratch. But in that end, that didn't necessarily mean it was going to be a painstaking recreation, even with some of the show's original stars.
"Part of the concept when we started Live one and continuing to Live two, we talked about not matching the sets exactly, but capturing the spirit of them," Vyzga said. "So we researched and we have some drawings from All in the Family. We found some drawings from Good Times, but we weren't looking for exact replicas of everything but trying to get a sense of recreating the set with the spirit of the original."
While Vyzga was quick to point out that the scripts for Good Times, which aired on CBS from 1974 through 1979, are still relevant today, the show's set design was not. "I think the difference for the production designer [and] art department is that 40 years later, camera and broadcast technology is so different," Vyzga explained. "We went from 3X4 and full videotape cameras to sophisticated 4K cameras and 16X9. The lighting is different so that you just have to pay a little more attention to detail and textures."
Those changes included the look of the Good Times apartment, which was based on 1940s-era Chicago public housing. "When I was looking at the photographs, they actually were cinder block walls," Vyzga said. "It was built during the war, but we updated the look with better textures and colors, and also adjusted the colors for modern technology so that they were not quite as chromatic."
Vyzga's work as a production designer earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Production Design for a Variety Special in 2019, along with art director Rich Rohrer and set decorator Ron Olsen. To see his work, both installments of Live in Front of a Studio Audience are available to stream on ABC.com