WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” gets set makeover

Only third set redesign in 20 years

Chicago PBS station WTTW revamped its signature 7 p.m. news show Chicago Tonight on October 3 debuting not only a newly remodeled set, but also new music and graphics. 

“We are excited to debut this new and immersive viewing experience, which will enhance our news coverage and advance our mission to provide independent, trusted journalism that is inclusive and reflective of the diversity of Chicago and the region,”, WTTW President and CEO Sandra Cordova Micek said in a statement via Newscast Studio. The new set is also being used for WTTW’s weekend news shows, Black Voices and Latino Voices

The set replaces a temporary one erected after replacing the longtime one many viewers were familiar with – dating back to the days when Bob Sirott was host. The changeover is a part of a total revamp of the show, including more enterprise reporting and a more enhanced viewing experience. The first story to be reported on the new look Chicago Tonight was on the difficulty of those who were incarnated integrating back into society after they were released from prison in a four-part series. 

Chicago Tonight Studio. Photo: Liz Farina Markel/WTTW/Newscast Studio

 “We always start our design process on the basis that, plain and simple, the goal of any scenic space is to enhance storytelling,” said Eric Siegel, who along with George Allison, helped redesign the set. “The tone of [Chicago Tonight] is friendly, no-nonsense, and straightforward – with a clean writing style that eschews the hyperbolic and overheated kind of presentation that is all too common in many news and public affairs programs. It was abundantly clear to us that the new studio had to reflect these values and facilitate that approach.”

Siegel and Allison had created sets for numerous shows, including PBS News Hour, ABC’s Nightline, and others. 

To the viewer watching at home, the new set does look smaller than the previous two sets did. Anchors Brandis Friedman and Paris Schutz are sitting together side by side in front of a chromakey set with sliding doors, where Chicago images can be punched up on cue – giving it the feel of a traditional news show (Friedman and Schutz were seen on a split-screen beforehand.)  Two rectangular video walls are located on both sides of the studio – one of which can be used to accommodate remote guests. Also visible are four Ross Video Cambots (robotic cameras) in the back, and there’s also a ceiling-mounted camera from SkyDolly. Ross also provided camera tracking and tech for the control room. 

An interview area with a hybrid of in-person and remote guests.

Chicago Tonight also has a new theme song, composed by local musician Aesha Dominguez, who also composed sperate themes for Black Voices and Latino Voices, to capture the cultural feel for each program. The new theme for Chicago Tonight replaces the one composed by Schutz. 

The revamp also allowed for the return of in-studio guests for the first time since the pandemic began, including journalists for the show. The Friday Week In Review had all four guests in-studio instead of in Zoom boxes from distant places, a welcome sight (in a note of irony, the video conferencing tool shares the same name with a former PBS children’s program shown on WTTW in the 1970s and again in the 1990s.) 

A new graphics package also debuted, with white lettering boxed in blue – looking somewhat similar to NewsNation’s.

The new look comes as WTTW has beefed up their news operation in recent years, creating a WTTW Fund For Independent News as a non-profit entity, one of several in Chicago including Block Club Chicago and the newly formed WBEZ/Chicago Sun-Times and adding news items to its main website. Chicago Tonight has aired on WTTW since 1984 when it was hosted by the late John Callaway. 

Editor’s Note: An earlier draft incorrectly spelled both hosts’ name. T Dog Media apologizes for the errors. 

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