November 02, 2017
Hall of Fame

Roy Christopher: Hall of Fame Tribute

The environment the production designer creates from the very beginning of a show is important for the audience, and for the way it cradles the actors. It lays the groundwork for however many years a show will be on. Roy has always been a master of that. His sets have always been impressive in their beauty, depth and quality. Over the long run of Frasier, we got to envision his foresight. That living room set [in Frasier’s Seattle penthouse apartment] was constantly filled with surprises. The challenge — or the opportunity — the writers gave Roy was, how was he going to create these people’s lives.

He has an incredibly wide talent. I think of the sophistication of Niles’ apartment: I think first of a stately temple, of luxury and elegance. But Roy also created the awful hotel Niles was consigned to when he and [wife] Maris broke up. And there was Dad’s chair [a decrepit Barcalounger favored by the Cranes’ father Martin]. He found a look that was just disturbing enough to be jarring. That chair has become so iconic.

I think my favorite set was Frasier’s living room. That was the central set, and it literally occupied the central place; the radio station was camera left and the coffee house was camera right. It comes in where it ought to go out — there was a big V [-shaped formation] in the middle of the set, where in most other sitcoms there’d be a staircase, or in the case of All in the Family, Archie Bunker’s chair. But Roy came up with a V right smack in the middle. It created a wonderful angle for the camera, such depth and richness for shots. Plus, it was practical — there was a phone there to go to. He filled that one room with opportunity. We never ran out of surprises, for eleven years.

Roy the man is so sweet and funny and loving. I think of his incredible relationship with his wife, Dorothy. They are a hoot, but they are also a couple very much in love. I feel his personal warmth and compassion embraced whatever he was asked to design.

One of the reasons I admire Roy is, he designed a play I did, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks at the Geffen Playhouse [in Westwood, California]. He did his customary job, but he was also dealing with the late, great Uta Hagen, who was a very prickly and particular actress with dialogue and props. I got to see Roy the diplomat, which I’d never had to see on our show.

He’s not a diva. He’s a collaborative artist. When he won his Emmy for Frasier, I was so happy for him — as I am now, for this acknowledgement. Why does Roy deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? I think his work speaks for itself. Beyond that, his workmanship, his generosity … for the people he works with, such as the actors on the set, the stuff unseen by the television audience doesn’t go unappreciated. He’s a genius at what he does.

When I first saw the Frasier set, I said, “Wow.” I don’t think that impression changed over eleven years.

He’s given Murphy Brown and Dr. Frasier Crane their homes and designed Academy Award entrances that had Shirley MacLaine arriving on a spaceship and Cher coming through a Bob Mackie headdress. For his creativity and artistic sensibility, production designer Roy Christopher has won ten Emmy Awards, of thirty-seven nominations. And now he becomes only the second production designer ever to be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.

And with good reason. The Fresno, California, native has the rare ability to move easily between the worlds of comedy, drama, musical variety and event television. His credits include sitcoms Murphy Brown, Frasier and Welcome Back, Kotter; dramatic specials Our Town and The Member of the Wedding and variety specials for Lily Tomlin, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Carol Burnett.

Christopher loves television for its immediacy, along with its opportunity to make magic. For his own magic-making, he has also won seven Art Directors Guild Awards and the guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Roy Christopher's induction in 2017.

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