ESPN Debuts New Pardon the Interruption Studio With Enhanced Tech, Same Show Flavor

‘No drastic changes’ was the guiding concept for the revamp

ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption launched a new set on Monday, marked by a full technology upgrade and several graphic enhancements. However, the overall look of the show — including heads on sticks in the background and the classic interaction between Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon — remains the same.

The new Pardon the Interruption set includes a 7- x 12-ft. LED screen behind Tony Kornheiser (left) and Michael Wilbon.

“The existing set is over eight years old, and the technology was dated and close to end of life,” notes ESPN Creative Director Noubar Stone, who has overseen all three of PTI’s set redesigns since the show launched in 2001. “It was critical to maintain the same relationship between Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon and incorporate the tchotchke and personal items, as well as the heads on sticks. We were able to open up the space to provide a little more depth and interest.”

The three-time Sports Emmy-winning ESPN discussion show originates from the ABC News bureau in Washington, DC, where it has been based since 2010. Jack Morton PDG’s Andre Durette and Doss Freel served as lead designers on the new set (Durette has designed the PTI sets since the beginning), Showman Fabricators handled fabrication and installation, and NEP Sweetwater served as systems Integrator.

The new set — which will also be home to SportsCenter With SVP when Scott Van Pelt moves to Washington later this year — features a 7- x 12-ft LED screen that will display graphics, animations, segment titles, and more. There’s also an LED wall that hinges out for the show’s “5 Good Minutes” interview segment or when Wilbon co-hosts the show from a remote location. The hosts will be able to look right at the new LED instead of looking off at a vertical roll-around display as they did in the previous studio.

The PTI main desk dimensions are identical to the previous version’s, and the distance between Kornheiser and Wilbon is still exactly 2 ft. 6 in.

ESPN is using the new COB-style LED display tiles from Ledman (the 1.9-mm–pixel-pitch units) and NovaLCT software to control the LED systems. The LED wall directly behind the anchor desk comprises six x 12 tiles; the second LED wall, five x12 tiles.

The main desk dimensions are identical to the previous ones, and the distance between Kornheiser and Wilbon is still exactly 2 ft. 6 in. The hosts also have a familiar console table behind them showcasing their memorabilia and tchotchkes.

“It was paramount that Tony and Mike have that same relationship, the same space around them at the desk,” says Stone. “At the beginning of this process, we went down to the stage and measured everything — probably spent 1.5-2 hours making modifications to ensure the exact same relationship.”

He adds that “heads on sticks is something that the audience gravitates towards and is a hallmark of the show. There’s actually more space for heads now.”

The revamped PTI set debuted on Monday.

The new studio features 150 state-of-the-art LED lighting instruments to allow the production and operations teams’ tools to evolve and enhance specialty segments and shows with the ability to paint the set. Lighting implementation was provided by the ESPN lighting team, including Chris Watson, Eric Verrone, and local operations-team members.

On screen, there will be a slight change in the rundown to better reflect the 16:9 format, organizing the screen in a more effective way while using the same color scheme, layout, and fonts.

“We feel the show is already so comfortable to host and to watch, so we made no drastic changes,” says longtime PTI Executive Producer Erik Rydholm. “The guiding thought was, ‘Same but better.’”