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Re-creating a Beantown feel

'We want to be fresh ... keep integrity of our look,' prod'n designer sez

Charles Lagola loves it when no one notices his production designs for “The Practice.” “To have the audience take notice of a location or a set in our kind of show is a bad thing,” he says.

That’s because the Boston setting plays a huge role in the series, which shoots at Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Anything that violates the consistency of the show’s look threatens the audience’s belief in the story, Lagola says.

“Using a typical neighborhood here in Southern California, it’s really hard to convince people that it’s in East Boston or Roxbury or any of the neighborhoods that surround Boston.”

Lagola’s stint on “Practice” stretches back to its first full season; he came on after the midseason replacement’s 12-episode debut run. He landed the job thanks to connections he made with producers and directors for many years in New York, many of whom landed at David E. Kelley’s shingle.

Since coming aboard, he has helped improve some of the standing sets the show has relied on, including a major reconfiguration of the much used courtroom set.

“It brought a new page to the look of our show,” he says. “We want to be fresh, but we want to keep the integrity of our look.”

The series’ original monochromatic style has evolved into one Lagola describes as a more crisp, distinctive look.

But appearances aren’t everything. Each new episode and the tight deadlines of a TV series pose its own challenges.

“There’s always a revolving amount of new locations and new sets to be solved,” he says. “A lot of our show takes place in the courtroom, which we have, and the office which we have. Then we have the sets that come up on an ongoing basis, like police precincts, exteriors and streets.”

For Sunday’s 100th episode, the script called for a scene in a garage. After discussions with the director and producers, and scouting locations, Lagola says they decided a set would be the best way to go.

He usually has a day to figure out what to do and a day to design it before it’s handed off to a construction crew. The total time spent on an episode can range as many as eight to nine days at the start of a season to as few as two or three as the February sweeps approach.

“I have great craftsmen,” he says. “I don’t need to look over their shoulder too much because they’re all very good.”

Lagola says he likes to be there when a new set is being used. “I want to be there for rehearsal. It’s come off of my desk, so I like to be there and see how they react with it. … I just like giving these people the place to work in.”

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