November 15th, 2004 by Written by: Eric Althoff

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ER, Set Decorator Tim Colohan

Written by: Eric Althoff   All Photos have been reprinted with permission from SET DECOR Magazine (Fall 2003)  
The triage center could be real. In fact, it is real. The one and only illusion-buster is a poster that hangs on a nearby wall displaying a grid-lined map of downtown Chicago. It's not because I'm keenly aware that I'm actually standing in a sound stage some 2000 miles away from the Windy City, nor the inherent temperature differential in those 2000 miles, but the fact that the phone number at the bottom of the map boasts that most fictitious of all prefixes, 555.

Welcome to the world of ER, a world so real that it has gripped TV viewers for nearly a decade. And meet its set decorator, Tim Colohan, who has been with the multiple award-winning show since the beginning of Season Six (1999-2000).

In an eerie and unfortunate irony, Colohan came aboard ER
because of an illness affecting his colleague, Michael Claypool, who soon died of cancer. "It was Ivo Cristante (the production designer) who asked me to temporarily step in while Michael underwent chemotherapy," Colohan said. "I saw myself as a stand-in at first, holding down the fort. I didn't think it would end up being my job and my crew." Now in his fourth season as ER's resident doctor of dress, Colohan looks back at the show's past, as well as at its future, and what each has brought to his career.

"The decoration per se has not changed too much, but the
logistics and scale have," Colohan said, noting that the scope of each show has likewise increased with time. "There are at least four to five storylines in one episode, because of the pacing of the show. So sometimes now, in just the teaser, you'll see four or five sets. The bulk of the show may reside in the ER after that, but we'll have needed all of the sets for just that one episode."

Colohan stressed that the longer the show has gone on, the more the budget of the show has expanded to include storylines outside of the physical ER itself. "We've gone from being on one stage to five stages. The show has grown to 26 standing sets, with anything from 10-14 swing sets for each episode." Luckily, Colohan's great crew, headed by Lead Tobey Bays and supported by Buyer Dorit Oberman, have honed the skills of "emergency" set dressing.

"Over time, the show develops its own visual language,"
Colohan added, "and the producers have always wanted that to become as rich and dense as possible. So we have increased the layers on the sets. In TV, you normally don't have time to do that."

ER's world is fully immersible, as evidenced by the fact that the style of shooting incorporates a full 360-degree viewpoint. "In terms of the technology affecting our work," Colohan said, "the steadicam and seeing the environment in 360 degrees are vital to the show. And the introduction of Hi-Def TV has meant that we've got to pay attention to more detail."

ER has just aired its 200th episode and is now the most nominated one-hour drama in the history of the Emmys.
Congratulations to the entire ER crew.

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ER, Set Decorator Tim Colohan