Dying to know the secrets of Dharma & Greg‘s success? Think it’s the stellar writing, or the ABC comedy’s two charismatic stars, Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson? Ha!
It’s called feng shui, the ancient Eastern cleansing ritual and environmental luck charm favored by Hollywood’s suddenly spiritual elite. “There were a bunch of failed pilots on this stage,” explains executive producer Dottie Dartland, “and if you’re superstitious, you’ll do anything to help your show. So this guy came in and painted the walls purple and red, and put up mirrors to reflect the energy. Then we peeled oranges and threw them on the stage and sprinkled some water around. But it was worth the 250 bucks.”
No kidding. The show has blossomed into a hit, and the Twentieth Century Fox lot’s stage 21 — once home to CBS’ Picket Fences — is now definitely Dharma’s domain: a pepped-up pastiche of colors, patterns, and generally bizarre objets d’art. “I like the word whimsical,” production designer John Shaffner says of the 35- by 20-foot set, which cost roughly $60,000, took three weeks to build, and was modeled after a San Francisco warehouse-turned-loft. “The idea was to make [yuppie lawyer] Greg a foreigner in [hippie] Dharma’s world. She isn’t afraid of color. She finds charm and loveliness in things the average person might have a hard time finding charming or lovely.”
These things include the flower-patterned vintage surfboard (a gift from one of Dartland’s wave-riding buddies) and the fish diorama-turned-end table (a $600 buy at Charles & Charles, an antiques wholesaler). “It’s one of my favorites, but it’s always hidden,” laments set decorator Anne Ahrens. “We’ve been meaning to put a light in it.”
The wooden swing in the corner gets short shrift too, thanks to an early Elfman mishap. “The cameras were rolling,” says the actress, “and I swung right into the bookshelf. The whole thing came crashing down, and I broke some stuff.”
The prop getting the most attention from set visitors — the mosaic kitchen table with inlaid place settings — is also the most expensive ($2,000 at the Los Angeles store Civilization). “People eat lunch on it,” says Ahrens. “I don’t mind. It gives it a lived-in look.”
The set may appear cozy, but the stars know better. “The sofa used to be snuggly,” laments Elfman. “But then they put a board underneath the pillows for when we have to jump on it.” Gibson has other pet peeves, courtesy of his canine costars: “There’s lots of dog hair and slobber on those pillows.”