Production designer Glenda Rovello talks bringing ‘I Love Lucy’ to life on revived run of ‘Will & Grace’

Will & Grace – Season 316
Pictured: (l-r) Peter Gursky (Set Decorator ), Glenda Rovello (Production Designer), Steve Watson (Lead Person) (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

Glenda Rovello didn’t expect to end up making a career in production design.

Rovello originally earned her masters degree in architecture. After spending some time working for Barton Myers Associates, Rovello thought that the architecture field might not be the best fit for her and started to put out feelers for art and production design in Los Angeles.

“I was always curious about it. I put out feelers for about a year and a half,” said Rovello. “A close friend of mine from college was a young VP at Paramount, and he offered to set up a lunch for me with the production designer for Arsenio Hall.”

Rovello has since gained a ton of experience as an art director for a number of award shows, television shows and pilots. She also had a few pilots under her belt and worked on the original run of the sitcom “Will & Grace” as the art director.

“I loved the sitcom life. When ‘Will & Grace’ came along, I was the art director for the first year, and Max Mutchnick and David Kohan (the show’s creators) bumped me up to production designer,” said Rovello.

Rovello worked the entire original run of “Will & Grace,” which ended first in 2006. The show was revived and began to air new episodes again in 2017, ultimately ending the show’s run in 2020.

This time, “Will & Grace” is set forward in time, and Rovello — as well as the show’s creators — wanted it to show that time had passed and the titular character Will (played by Eric McCormack) had been a successful attorney 

“The mandate for Max and David, who have pretty extraordinary design eyes, was that they wanted it to be so real and kind of aspirational. They wanted to hit that New York urbane look and make this apartment amazing,” said Rovello. “We wanted to know about Will and his aesthetic — he’s got some gravitas and design is important to him. We avoided trendy notes, but we did give him things to make him real and important. At this point in the show, Will had been an attorney for 20 years. He can afford the higher end stuff.”

Rovello recently earned her tenth Emmy nomination for production design, this time in particular for her work on the “Will & Grace” episode that pays tribute to the beloved sitcom “I Love Lucy.” She is up for Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour), alongside Conny Boettger-Marinos (Art Director) and Peter Gurski (Set Decorator).

“It’s always an honor to be nominated,” said Rovello. “I was a little taken aback that we made the final cut of the nominations — we are up against shows like ‘The Mandalorian.’”

In the episode, entitled “We Love Lucy”, Will tells Grace (Debra Messing) that living with her is like Ricky living with Lucy. When Karen (Megan Mullally) and Jack (Sean Hayes) overhear, the three imagine themselves as Lucy. The episode recreates some of the most iconic imagery and scenes from “I Love Lucy,” including the classic conveyor belt scene and the cough syrup commercial. The episode even features Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, playing the line boss in the candy-wrapping scene.

“[The writers] went for what they thought would be the most iconic examples of the show. They wanted to honor ‘I Love Lucy’ the best they could and for there to be no question about the set,” said Rovello. 

Rovello says that the production team watched tons of old “I Love Lucy” episodes, particularly the candy episode, over and over in order to help design the episode. In an effort to stay true to the source material, Rovello worked to make the set an exact replica, not just for the immediate visuals but also scaling things to be proportionally accurate and embracing aspects of the 1950s.

“We tried to be as accurate as we could by watching those episodes,” said Rovello. “We also didn’t necessarily want to bring 2020 technology to something that was done in the late 50s. We use a lot of real plaster and painting the backing.”

Rovello acknowledges that she is not alone in taking credit for pulling the “I Love Lucy” tribute episode together — the entire team worked tirelessly to bring the classic sitcom to life.

“It really is a compliment to all of the departments that helped build that show. For example, the costume department had to build all of the costumes from scratch — that’s not normal for a sitcom,” said Rovello. “We had to recreate some art that was on the show. Peter Gurski didn’t leave a stone unturned and found furniture for the set. The props department worked with See’s Candies for the candy, who recreated the formula from that episode for this one. Everyone went for authentic, and we reached that bar.”

“Will & Grace” airs on NBC and is streaming on Peacock.