January 30th, 2021 by Set Decorator John Sparano SDSA

Main Photo
Host Craig Ferguson. Photo by Christopher Willard © 2019 ABC. All rights reserved.

Set Decorator John Sparano SDSA

Production Designer Jeff Hall


Set Decorator John Sparano SDSA gives us a glimpse of the new and unique game show THE HUSTLER, airing on ABC & Hulu. Craig Ferguson hosts the enigmatic game show that follows five contestants as they collaborate to answer a series of questions to determine which of them is the planted con artist. A substantial cash prize is at stake, of course, befitting the elegance of the set.
Karen Burg, Editor
From John...
The pilot for ABC’s THE HUSTLER was conceived as a glossy-floor, digital-background show much like WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE and THE WEAKEST LINK. When the pilot was picked up, the producers felt the concept of the gameplay lent itself more to movies like CLUE and KNIVES OUT.  Production Designer Jeff Hall was tasked with creating a new environment in the world of today’s game shows. The visual concept became host Craig Ferguson’s European style mansion in which he brings contestants into his study to play a game of whodunnit. 
The very first request Art Director James Carhart and I had was to find appropriate cleared portraits into which we could photoshop pictures of our host. I spent hours going through Omega Cinema Props’ extensive inventory of Old Masters reproductions and pulled eight images that we then used as background for the superimposed images of Ferguson. I kept their original ornate gold frames and replaced the old “paintings” with the new ones we produced. 

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Host Craig Ferguson. Photo by Christopher Willard © 2019 ABC. All rights reserved.

 The next issue was the chairs for the contestants. Originally, the producers were excited about the chairs being Victorian, like in CLUE, but the thickness and heavily carved shapes of those types of furnishings didn’t seem to translate to the kind of energy that was occurring in the gameplay, so I sneaked in a few choices from Jan’s French Antiques, Omega and Warner Bros. Property that I felt were more elegant. The producers reacted favorably to the French options. 
Ferguson’s main background is a grand piano and a draped window overlooking an English garden. We rented a piano from Hollywood Piano and lined the inside with LED strips to give it a warm glow. The drapes were created on the spot from raw fabric from downtown LA, and I designed a header handcut by the construction team from Killswitch, which we padded and upholstered. 
There were many attempts at the hero coffee table which is the main focus of the gameplay, and several prototypes failed to catch the imagination of the executives. Infinitely resourceful designer Jeff Hall took inspiration from some of the inlaid wood side tables on the the set from Warner Bros. Property, Universal Property and Omega to create a new surface design concept that met the creative team's vision. The final result is a table with an inlaid border much like one of the side tables that we used. 

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Host Craig Ferguson. Photo by Christopher Willard © 2019 ABC. All rights reserved.

 Four chandeliers surround the main play area, all from Omega. There are many table lamps which were pulled out of different prop houses that had to be cleaned and straightened out because of the many close-ups where they were used as foreground pieces. Because of the age of some of them, there were some wiring issues, and one of them lost half their lights during shooting but the crane operator continued to use the half that worked in his frame!
The books themselves are from Faux Library. Because the shelves in the set were designed to swing open on the contestants’ departure, all of the books are fake. The rest of the knickknacks and treasures on the shelves were pulled from the previously mentioned prop houses. The large rug, which was in perfect condition, was pulled out of Warner Bros. Drapery and was a stroke of pure luck to find a quality carpet for rental in such a large size.

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Host Craig Ferguson. Photo by Christopher Willard © 2019 ABC. All rights reserved. [Note harp in background, left.]

 The one hero prop I brought in that was not a special request was Ferguson’s harp. I had seen this piece on the second floor of Universal Property for years and always wanted to use it for something, but never had the opportunity. I thought it fit in with the concept, so I dressed it into the set. The producers had the idea of Craig playing around with objects of art while the players were deliberating, and it became one of their favorite pieces. They went on to use it in a variety of promo shots.

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Host Craig Ferguson. Photo by Christopher Willard © 2019 ABC. All rights reserved.

 The experience of decorating THE HUSTLER reminded me of some of the classic mystery television shows I grew up with in the ‘70s, like COLUMBO and HART TO HART, where they sometimes were set in elegant interiors filled with antiques and curiosities. Watching those shows now, I can even recognize set dressing that still is in the active inventories of the major prop houses and it was uniquely satisfying to get to use some of them again.