Need a foolproof way to ensure your new game show gets noticed? Try filming it inside a three-story, 18,000-pound bent-steel structure that’s laced with multicolored lights powered by more than 1.6 million watts of electricity, adding a custom-made seat dreamed up by the guy who created The Voice‘s signature red chairs … then inserting the whole thing into New York City’s iconic skyline.
The gleaming home of NBC’s Million Second Quiz isn’t just a set: It’s a massive, eye-catching feat of engineering.
“Everything’s oversized, not just because we’re crazy or we’re trying to overshoot,” production designer Anton Goss told EW during a set visit last week. “We are on a rooftop with the city behind us, and we have to do something significant to — I don’t want to say compete [with], but complement, and also frame [that city]. It’s like we’re building our own little skyscraper.” (Get an extra large look at the panoramic view here.)
While MSQ‘s ersatz high-rise may be “little” by New York standards, its construction was a monumental undertaking. Hundreds of crew members worked for over a month to build the game show’s hourglass set with the help of Geiger Engineers — a company known for erecting sturdy structures like bridges and stadiums.
As Goss explained, the mechanics involved mean that nothing on the finished product is there just for show. The hourglass’s visually striking steel frame, for example, can withstand winds of up to 90 miles per hour. Its floor is made of a glass sturdy enough to weather heat from oodles of lights as well as actual weather; the hourglass itself has a ceiling but no walls, making it a precarious place for contestants and audience members in case of rain.
If the Quiz‘s team of dedicated weather trackers do detect imminent lightning, production of the show’s primetime hour will move from the hourglass to its indoor “cover set” — an exact replica on the ground floor of MSQ headquarters. (The series’ home base used to be a car dealership with 500 vehicles parked on its roof; even though the building can withstand an enormous amount of weight, its entire second floor still had to be filled with reinforcement scaffolding when MSQ moved in.)
Both the hourglass and its indoor doppelganger, where 96 percent of the quiz takes place are home to futuristic sets dominated by big, comfy “money chairs,” where the game’s leading contestants get to sit while competing. (The game lasts for 1 million seconds straight, or about 12 consecutive days and nights. 23 hours a day, the game will be livestreamed; only the primetime hour will be filmed in the hourglass each night.)
These sleek leather creations are designed to resemble racing seats, for practical as well as aesthetic reasons — after all, a competitor who’s on a roll could find herself sitting in one for hours. They’re sort of like a cross between seats on the Starship Enterprise and The Voice‘s much-loved red; appropriate, since Goss also designed the set of NBC’s singing show. (“I’m the chair guy right now,” he explained.) When the outdoor seat is threatened by rain, it’s nestled under a cover that makes it look like something else entirely: “a big barbecue.”
The cover set is adjacent to Winners’ Row, the semi-swanky spot where MSQ‘s four highest scorers get a chance to socialize, eat, and even sleep, thanks to four bed pods straight out of 2001. “We wanted it futuristic but comfy,” Goss said, pointing out the sheer curtains that give the winners a small measure of privacy, as well as the Row’s squashy red armchairs. Seating and accent pillows notwithstanding, the set’s blinding whiteness screams dystopia — as do the tiny cameras embedded above each mattress.
From shoring up the roof to dealing with pushy New York neighbors — after the production tested out a xenon searchlight, one nearby resident actually called the cops — the makers of Million Second Quiz‘s set have faced plenty of obstacles. Ultimately, though, Goss and his team are happy with what they’ve created: “It’s a statement,” the production designer said. “It’s an event.”
And it just happens to have the best natural backdrop a TV set can hope for. “In TV, we use things called Translights, which are little backlit cityscapes — you must have seen them in all the movies. And we’re always joking, ‘There’s our translight,’” Goss said, gesturing to the skyline beyond the hourglass — which includes a stunning view of the Empire State Building. “We’re so used to faking it, and here we are — boom.”
Million Second Quiz premieres live in primetime tonight at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.