How will Baltimore look when Hairspray Live! is shown on NBC?

Architectural Digest magazine is offering a sneak peek of the sets that have been created for the TV version of John Waters’ 1988 movie, depicting the Formstone heaven of East Baltimore in the 1960s.

Derek McLane is the production designer for the show, which will be filmed on a backlot at NBC Universal in Los Angeles. Architectural Digest reports that McLane “looked to books on advertising in the 50s and ’60s, as well as vintage magazines such as Life and House & Garden” and that he took a “research trip” to Maryland.

“So much of the show is about Baltimore,” he tells the magazine. But the TV crew isn’t trying to copy other productions, he said. “We’re trying to make this our own as much as possible.”

Part of the challenge, McLane tells AD, is that the backlot has facades that were meant to represent New York City, and the NBC crew had to transform them to make them feel like Baltimore.

“We’re repainting the buildings with much more intense colors,” and lining the streets with period cars, he said.

The Turnblad family living room is intended to look like it dates from the 1940s or early 1950s, with custom wallpaper based on period designs, McLane tells AD. “It’s meant to be a little bit of a time capsule. The idea is that their apartment is a bit faded and old-fashioned by 1962 standards.”

The Corny Collins set is “meant to feel a little bit bluesy,” McLane said to  AD. “It’s got a lot of color and a lot of abstract shapes, which is something I found in 1960s advertising.”

The decor of Motormouth Mabelle’s record store was inspired by a book called Juke Joint, McLane explained to AD.  “It is not a fancy store at all,” he said. “It’s meant to feel extremely lively.”

Designing a local department store, Mr. Pinky’s Hefty Hideaway,  was “a chance to have a lot of fun with the period,” McLane said to AD. “It’s a little flamboyant. We’ll also have fun dressing the clothing displays inside the store.”

Based on what the magazine is showing, the city comes across looking pretty good.

“From the Turnblad home to Motormouth Maybelle’s record store,” the magazine says, “McLane has designed a colorful, energetic rendering of 1962 Baltimore.”


Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.