Production Designer John Shaffner Shares His Secrets to The Perfect Set

Shaffner during his an interview with WEBN.
Chaffer during his an interview with WEBN.

Chaffer during his an interview with WEBN.

By Hannah Perrin 9/18/2015

John Shaffner has been in the television industry for over 30 years designing the sets to many popular shows, including Friends,Two & Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory, to name a few.

He has received 24 Emmy nominations and four wins for his production design work, but what exactly is a production designer’s job?

“I have a very simple explanation,” said Shaffner. “A production designer is the lucky person who gets the script before anybody else and gets to start imagining what its going to look like on camera.”

This here John Shaffner was nominated for his work on The Big Bang Theory. He has been designing the set since the very first pilot episode.

“It’s not universally known that there was a pilot that was done originally with the show and our leading characters Leanord and Sheldon were graduate students and they were desperate for money and so they lived in a very poor rooming house situation, little apartment.”

After reviewing the pilot, The Big Bang Theory team decided to take the show in a different direction and make Leonard and Sheldon full professors who never had to worry about money.

“The creative people led by Chuck Lory and CHECK NAMES HERE felt that the story should not be about them being poor, but about everything else.”

Since that big change, the set for The Big Bang Theory has mostly remained the same. John Shaffner said his biggest challenge when set designing is creating interesting doors.

“Doors are always a big challenge on any program because a door without any adornment, is a really flat, plain surface,” explained Shaffner. “So we’re always looking for ways to create a little more texture and surface on the door.”

His most famous door was purple with a gold frame around the peep hole, Monica and Rachel’s door in Friends.

“It was a New York City metal slab door, but I said to my wonderful decorator Greg Grande, ‘we gotta do something on the back of this plain door.’ He said let me think about it.

“So he came back to me holding that little picture frame and said ‘what do you think?’ and held it up on the door and I said I think that’s a wonderful idea let’s see if everybody else likes it. And guess what? Everybody liked it.”

Schaffner also added flare to the doors in The Big Bang Theory.

“In the case of our apartments on The Big Bang Theory, they live in an older building that once upon a time had a single panel door. A single panel door for the most part is a wooden frame with a very thin panel of wood in the middle, but that’s real easy to break into.”