Meet the Designer of ‘Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party’
If you haven’t heard already, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg are cooking up a feast with some of their favorite celebrity friends on their new show Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party. Although this seems like an unlikely duo, fans of the show are loving it so far.
Have you ever wondered what goes into producing hit shows like this? Well, you’re in luck! Here at What’s Trending we recently got to chat with Emmy-award winner James P. Connelly, who served as the production designer for Martha & Snoop’s new show. James’ resume is ridiculously impressive – in fact, he’s probably designed some of the sets of your favorite shows like The Voice, Top Chef, Celebrity Apprentice (with Arnold Schwarzenegger), and more.
Here’s an inside look at what went into James’ creative process for Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.
What’s Trending: What elements of the kitchens are real vs. set design?
James: This is a real kitchen – real plumbing, real gas appliances and real refrigerators. And they are REALLY COOKING and EATING! From a set design perspective and theory, if talent can access or touch or walk to a piece of furniture or architecture, it should be REAL. This lends a whole other, more authentic energy to the show. In this case, we wanted to plan for anything unexpected and crazy to happen, so we built two very real kitchens on a stage in front of an audience.
What’s Trending: This is a pretty off-the-wall concept for a show. What was the hardest part of meshing two famously distinct, obviously disparate styles?
James: It’s actually almost a new genre of television. It’s a variety show because it’s comedy, it’s a talk show, it’s a cooking competition, and it’s all performed in front of a live audience with the occasional musical guest. It’s a very unique combination of some extremely different types of television as well as very distinct talent personalities.
But I LIVE FOR A CHALLENGE and applied some serious brain power to make it work. The challenge presented itself boldly, and I decided to embrace the problem by highlighting it. How do you make a kitchen for two obviously very different and iconic celebrities? SHOW IT OFF.
The kitchen is its own character in the show, and it needs to be. It’s important to see the similarities through the differences. On one side, you have fabulous Viking appliances in brushed nickel and on the other, in Antique Gold. Snoop’s side was finished in luxurious automotive trimming and surfaces while Martha’s were more about being fresh, functional and stylishly mid-century.
I created identical layouts and shapes and contrasted the kitchens via color palette and surface treatment. My challenge was to unify these spaces, yet still have them remain true to who they were created for. I created a “home” with a gable roof crown moulding overhead and paired it with exposed beams to tie the architecture together. Weaving two tones of wood stain into a herringbone parquet was a symbol of two worlds coming together and in the centermost heroic background, a symbolic olive branch between both worlds – a beautiful Oak Tree with white lights – standing proud of a penthouse herb garden. There is a through line of greenery that can be found in both kitchens.
What’s Trending: There are a few distinctive elements to your set, including the grille on Snoop’s part of the kitchen. What kind of input did Snoop and Martha bring to your production design?
James: They were very specific about a few details that they felt really reflected their personality. Snoop’s favorite car is a 1964 Chevy Impala, and Martha wanted me to focus on her mid-century taste as opposed to being traditional. She wanted me to organically incorporate her line of cabinetry and cookware, and Snoop wanted me to keep it fun and high end. Martha had made a few suggestions on wallpaper, but still wanted my take on things. It was a very productive creative process, and I felt very empowered to let it be my design and vision. To be honest, it was an incredible opportunity to learn from Martha. She is the real deal when it comes to taste making and we had very good working conversations about details and finishes. I learned a ton from her.
What’s Trending: What was your most memorable moment with Snoop and Martha?
James: The day both Martha and Snoop saw the completed kitchen for the first time, it was a nerve-wracking day. All the executives and suits were on site to make sure they were there for the talent. Network, production, agents, talent execs, publicists, etc. Even my mother was in town for the Emmys. Everyone was nervous and on edge with a constant, “If she doesn’t like it, do you have a plan”?
When Martha saw if for the first time, she wanted a tour and took photos of the whole set. She LOVED it. 100% perfect. Phew. When Snoop walked out with his team and saw the space he was WOW’d. Both invited me up to the stage, and Snoop gave me a 2 minute hug in front of everyone. He called it, “Upper Echelon”. We took many photos with a photographer, just the three of us, and they were really thankful and impressed. I’ve been a production designer for years, but this was a moment that I’ll never forget.
What’s Trending: Online audiences have been intrigued by the idea of a Martha and Snoop collaboration since the show was first announced. Are there any specific set elements that you think will grab the Internet’s attention?
James: Keep your eyes peeled for little details we snuck into the kitchen. Movie posters, album logos, personal mementos, remnants of previous shows, and funny bits of humor. I think the audience will love the black glass tile and herb cabinetry in Snoop’s kitchen, and the faux bois wallpaper and built-in shelving unit with copper backing on Martha’s kitchen island.
What’s Trending: You’ve done design work for both traditional media and new media shows. What differences have you noticed between these types of shows? How do you expect the landscape to change for professional creatives?
James: Great question. In some traditional shows, we’ve found a format that works for the audience and this allows the show to be successful. That lets me be creative in different ways; new architecture and finishes, custom furnishings, supporting the story with an environment.
However, I LOVE new media techniques. Any way we can try something fresh is my JAM. As you mention, I’ve done this either with a single camera perspective that flows through an immersive environment, or combining the glamorous stage presence with a celebrity cooking show. In “alternative television,” or what some people call “reality,” it’s important to experiment in storytelling, either with the environment or camera work so the viewing audience can submerse themselves completely into watching genuine human behavior exposed on camera. It’s about giving the audience the best and most authentic experience possible.
Have you had a chance to check out Martha & Snoop’s new show? While the pairing alone was enough to get people to watch, the amount of work put in by industry professionals, like James, makes the show that much more enjoyable for viewers like me. If you’d like to check out more of James’ work, you can check out his production reel here, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter @jpconnelly.
Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party airs on Mondays at 10/9C on VH1.
What do you think of Martha & Snoop’s set? Let us know in the comments below or @WhatsTrending on Twitter!