The first day Craig Melvin broadcast from his Connecticut home last week, his producers told him to pick the room with the strongest Wi-Fi signal. So the “Today” show co-host headed up to his home office.
Two minutes before airtime, his director piped up: “Wow. That is some wallpaper, huh?”
The navy and white palm tree pattern by Serena & Lily was bold and busy. It was a statement. Viewers noticed.
“I have heard more about that ... wallpaper than anything I’ve done on NBC,” Melvin said with a laugh. “Everyone has an opinion.”
On Melvin’s Instagram, the wallpaper was a hit, with comments from followers calling it “fabulous,” “psychedelic” and “trippy.”
The powers that be at NBC, however, did not love it. And his children, ages 6 and 3, realized Daddy was home and immediately ran upstairs into the live shot.
By Day 2, Melvin was broadcasting from his former man cave in the basement, with three iPads, three lights and upgraded Wi-Fi.
But the wallpaper, which was picked out by Melvin’s wife, Lindsay Czarniak, is immortalized in a promotional video by MSNBC, where it appears in all its swirling glory.
Melvin and Al Roker were asked to work from home after a “Today” staffer was diagnosed with the coronavirus. The pandemic means America is seeing familiar faces in an unfamiliar setting: their homes. Some are elegant. Some are bohemian. Some are bare-bones.
All reveal something we never knew about their owners, whom we welcome into our living rooms on a daily basis.
It’s all uncharted territory.
A week ago, Anderson Cooper stood in a corner of his West Village home dressed in a dark T-shirt, facing the camera. “Tens of millions more Americans saw their world shrink to four walls, or the walls of their homes, myself included,” Cooper said at the open of his CNN show “Anderson Cooper 360.” He was standing against a backdrop of leather-bound books, a globe, a vintage chandelier and what looked like a leather wing chair.
Unlike the glossy, carefully curated spreads in magazines, these celebrity spaces have a makeshift quality – which somehow makes their owners a bit more human.
Sue Palka, evening meteorologist at Fox 5 in Washington, started broadcasting Monday from her Gaithersburg, Md., home office with two new colleagues: Murphy and Lily. Her two rescue cats are stealing the show, sitting sphinx-like next to her, staring right into the camera, jumping on the back of the yellow upholstered chair she plucked from her dining room and trying to snuggle in her lap. (She’s keeping a lint roller on standby because she’s often wearing black pants.)
“At first I was worried that I should email my boss and ask him if I should keep out the cats,” Palka said. “But now the feedback is all about the cats and not about the weather.”
There have been calls for Murphy and Lily to get their own Twitter feed.
“The cats are keeping me calm on these anxiety-filled days,” Palka said.
The most popular setting for most media types is their home office – or what looks like an office. Some are guest bedrooms hastily converted into mini-broadcasting studios. Some are dimly lit finished basements. Some are kitchens.
Consider Becky Quick, CNBC co-anchor of “Squawk Box.” She gets up at 3:45 a.m., puts on her slippers and sneaks into a spare bedroom in her New Jersey home to start her day.
“I do my own hair and makeup; I’m my own lighting person, so I set up the lights, and I’m my own IT director, so I set up the computers and call in,” Quick said.
She pushed the bedroom furniture over to the side of the room, arranged her computer on a table and brought up a small bookcase from the basement. She asked her family not to use the Wi-Fi until 9 a.m., when her three-hour show is over. She has towels stuffed under the door so her 3-year-old won’t hear her and want to burst in.
“We have four kids,” she said. “So I can’t be broadcasting from my living room.”
Somara Theodore, weekend meteorologist with NBC4 in Washington, had two days to prepare to broadcast from her 800-square-foot Maryland apartment.
“The first thing that came to mind was lighting,” she said. “And the other was what area would I be able to keep clean the longest. I looked to a corner of my living room. I have my spiritual crystals and my plants here.”
She said her setup looks “more bohemian” than the rest of the place, which is very neutral. Her palm tree, snake plant and succulents provide a gardenlike backdrop: “These are pretty dope plants,” she said. “I needed that pop of color to go live from here.”
Designers are seeing their work show up in unexpected places. Gayle King, a co-host of “CBS This Morning,” Instagrammed a photo of herself at home with a staffer from O Magazine, where she is editor at large. They were setting up a laptop in King’s kitchen so she could work remotely. In the background, Sheila Bridges spotted the bright yellow Harlem Toile de Jouy wallpaper she designed.
“Watching these new settings for the news media, you see that almost everybody seems to have wallpaper,” Bridges said. “It’s a glimpse into people’s homes that we otherwise would not have. I think those of us who are designers are watching and saying, ‘Oh, I think that looks really good. And that looks really terrible.’ ”
Bridges, of course, loves King’s kitchen.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman and MSNBC analyst Michael Steele’s home office elegantly displayed the classic symbols of a Washington power broker: photos, diplomas and a painting or two.
“It’s a nice, effective background,” he said. “It works very well.”
NBC’s Tom Costello reported from his Maryland home sitting next to his computer and printer. Behind him, shelves neatly displayed figurines and objects.
“If I had to imagine what Tom Costello’s home office would look like, this would be it,” Melvin said. “Organized, put-together, rock solid.”
Most pundits select bookcases as their background: It’s scholarly, serious and sends a message about their education and sophistication. Some bookcases are simple – Ikea Billy is a favorite – but some are elaborate affairs with beautiful hardwoods, custom millwork and fancy lighting. Other sneak peeks into hosts’ personalities also turn up on shelves: Ivy League coffee mugs, big-time awards, diplomas, kids’ toys.
And then there are the books themselves.
“On a lighter note, one byproduct of doing so many remote interviews, which include interviews of people from their dens, is you and I get to browse their personal book collections,” former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said last weekend on “Meet the Press.”
That’s assuming you can actually see the books. Dim lighting and muffled sound are common on new remote sets, until producers and crew figure out just the right formula. Steele discovered his old webcam wasn’t up to today’s streaming speeds. He tried to buy a new one and discovered they are almost as hard to find as toilet paper.
Because “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie is on the air four hours each day, the production team quickly created a home studio out of a basement room of her home in upstate New York.
“It was a guest room; the bed is still there,” she said.
You can’t see that on air, of course. The team set up a giant monitor behind Guthrie’s desk and installed a camera and teleprompter that are operated remotely. Her children are 5 and 3; their playroom is right across the hall.
“My husband literally duct-taped the hallway door so they don’t come bursting in,” she said.
Guthrie is committed to working from home as long as necessary.
“All of us feel personally how unsettling this is,” she said. “We’re really grateful that we can.”
ABC’s “The View” has three out of four regular hosts working remotely. Executive Producer Brian Teta and his crew worked with each host to find the spot in their home that would be the best place to broadcast and make them comfortable.
Whoopi Goldberg is in a spare room in her New Jersey home, and Joy Behar in her home office on Long Island. Meghan McCain is doing the show from her dining room table. Her backdrop is a vintage American flag that she bought in college.
Background noise can be an issue. But so can simply getting used to a new rhythm of conversation.
“It’s different when you aren’t sitting across the table from someone,” Teta said. “Our show is famous for cross talk, and the ladies become passionate about things. It becomes much harder to navigate when you are doing it remotely.”
One thing that’s easier in this new TV world is getting dressed. You can wear pretty much whatever you want. On Monday’s “Live With Kelly and Ryan,” Ryan Seacrest wore tie-dye sweats while filming at home. Co-host Kelly Ripa hasn’t gone that far, favoring casual dresses.
“I’m old-school,” Steele said. “What I do is put a jacket on. You don’t want to look like you just came from a walk in the woods. You’re still on national television.”