Debating Presidential Debate Set Design

Finally, some political discussion we can relate to! In yesterday’s New York Times Week in Review, the sharp-eyed Phil Patton highlighted the importance of set design and furniture in political debates. The first televised presidential debate, that historic tussle between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, was as notable for its lessons on the importance of bronzer and close shaves as it was for the futuristic tone set by the Hans Wegner chairs in which the candidates sat when not speaking, writes Patton. And in the pre-debate debates over set design, no detail is too small, as demonstrated in the negotiations that preceded the 1976 debate between President Gerald Ford and challenger Jimmy Carter.

One issue was the hue of blue that would be used on the backdrop. Mr. Ford’s advisers worried that a darker blue might emphasize the president’s thinning hair. Mr. Ford, who had been lampooned as clumsy on Saturday Night Live, also wanted a bracket on his podium to secure his water glass.