Mary Kouw/Courtesy CBS News

The Democratic debate stage is set in Charleston for tonight’s nationally televised event from the Gaillard Auditorium. You can watch the whole thing tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS. The debate will focus on the candidates and questions, but tonight’s program is the product of a rigorous planning process by the CBS production team.

“It’s months of work,” CBS consultant and producer David Bohrman says. “It starts with a sense of idea and place, and then we bring a team of people to that place. Our director, Renee Cullen and the scenic designer spent several iterations coming up with trying to visualize a debate that’s important, elegant, and interesting.”

Bohrman was a part of the original staff of ABC’s Nightline in 1980 before quickly falling into work on special events, crafting conventions and election-related productions ever since. Pushing technology and TV news to its limit for the election season has been one of his goals in his work.

“The Gaillard really gives us the opportunity to do both,” he says. “There’s an enormous amount of technology here, but the beautiful architecture of the hall comes through … We tried very hard to keep that, but also bring some of the modern, cutting-edge technology into the debate environment.”


• Tuesday’s production will feature angles from 17 cameras inside the debate hall
• Video elements on stage add up to a total of 35 million pixels
1,600 people are expected to attend
• More than 500 press credentials have been issued

The planning goes down to the smallest detail, including the colors viewers will see on screen tonight, though the colors they go with aren’t the most surprising.

“You’re going to pretty much find that some combination of red, white, and blue are ever-present in these debate settings,” Bohrman says. “These colors look great on TV anyway, and they also represent that sense of patriotism and presidency.”
[image-2] Bohrman says he enjoys what he does, but it’s not exactly smooth sailing; there are more moving parts than viewers could imagine. Once the team settles on a vision, they start thinking about how to achieve it, how to pull all the elements together.

“There is nothing more custom-made than this debate,” Bohrman says. “It is totally custom-made for this hall, for us, for this moment.”

One thing that made Charleston’s debate a bit more complicated, Bohrman says, was an elaborate wedding taking place at the Gaillard over the weekend while the CBS team was trying to get things ready for the debate. They had to hide their equipment so the newlyweds didn’t feel like they were getting married in a TV studio.

But once all the big challenges are met, all that’s left to do is get the cameras in place.

“We are ready, and the people here have been great,” Bohrman says. “We’ve had some odd needs for some large things to be printed out or dealt with, and we want to thank the people of Charleston and the Gaillard for responding so quickly.”


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