House of ‘Five-0’
Inside the headquarters of Hawaii’s coolest crime-fighters
With its chocolate-brown wood trim, plush furniture and computers bristling with intelligence data, the headquarters of the new “Hawaii Five-0” squad has the look of a military command center.
The cast and crew of the CBS hit call it “HQ.” It’s been a fixture on nearly every episode of “Five-0,” a Bat Cave in paradise.
But it’s more than just a pretty set. It’s also the setting where executive producer Peter Lenkov breathed life into his vision of the show. Nothing, not even the Benjamin Moore Philipsburg Blue paint on the walls, is here without his blessing.
He created individual offices for the “Five-0” characters and filled each space with mementos that reflect their personal lives: the Father’s Day gifts Danno’s daughter gave him, the trophies inscribed with Chin Ho Kelly’s name, the surfboard Kono keeps nearby and McGarrett’s Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Lenkov also gave HQ a focal point, a place where the gravity of his imagination is strongest. It’s called the “Surface Table.”
If you’ve watched the show, you’ve seen McGarrett and crew solving cases while standing around an almost magical computer built into a black table. With a sweep of the hand, the crime-fighters can whisk important discoveries —; the location of a cell-phone trace or security-camera images —; up from the tabletop to one of three 42-inch monitors suspended from the ceiling.
"I think it helps define our state-of-the-art task force and hopefully gives you a sense of how far law enforcement has come since the original show debuted in 1968," Lenkov said. "I explained early on to folks on the crew that the Surface Table was our ‘dinner table,’ a place where our ‘family’ gathered, talked, solved problems."
To step into HQ is to step through the looking glass. Even on a day when the action is elsewhere, it’s surreal.
CBS BUILT the set in a lightly used 5,400-square-foot storage area at the back of the downtown post office. Although on the ground floor, it’s supposed to be an upper floor of nearby Aliiolani Hale, which in real life is home to the state Supreme Court. Inside, there’s nothing to disrupt the illusion that the set is anything but a real, working office, said production designer Keith Neely, who took Lenkov’s vision and brought it to life. Neely has been “dressing” sets for 25 years.
"Everything here is safe," Neely said. "I don’t have to worry about somebody shooting something they are not supposed to."
The “Five-0” creators wanted technology and the tropics whenever the cameras rolled.
"It’s important because when the actors are in their offices, it reminds them of their back-story. … It reminds them about who they are and where they came from."
Director and producer of “Hawaii Five-0,” on the details of the set pieces
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"We were trying to make it feel like a slick, technologically advanced police station but still feel like Hawaii," Neely said. "That’s why all the walls have the koa finish. It’s really African mahogany."
The Surface Table stands out, though.
It’s about the size of a sheet of plywood with a hole in the center for a 52-inch monitor. The tabletop computer was patterned after Microsoft’s Surface 2.0 technology, which really does allow someone to sweep images from one monitor to another and download photos from a cell phone, just like “Five-0” did in a recent episode.
But in HQ all the images and videos are choreographed by Dan Helias, a video engineer who controls the Surface Table with his Macbook Pro and a stack of Mac Minis. Helias taps the keys of his laptop to conjure images on the tabletop, and when an actor sweeps his hand, the engineer taps another key to move the image to the hanging monitors.
"We make it look like they use it all in one fluid movement, but in reality I am operating two different computers at once," Helias said.
It takes a few rehearsals to get the timing right.
"They improvise and I work off of them," Helias said. "Daniel Dae Kim (who plays Chin Ho Kelly) likes to do a little flourish. He’ll type away and give it some emphasis."
The set builders placed props —; from plastic guns to wanted posters —; to give HQ a lot of depth, but blink and you’ll miss much of their hard work. The camera spends only a few seconds looking in any one direction.
But if it stopped in McGarrett’s office, the revelations would be numerous.
"Lenkov spent a lot time on McGarrett’s office," said Brad Turner, a director and producer for the show. "He was very detailed on what he wanted."
It became a shrine to the military history of three generations of McGarretts, all of them Navy men. The crime-fighter’s murdered father served on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and his grandfather on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Photos of the two vessels are on the wall. Models of the ships are proudly displayed.
The younger McGarrett, a Navy SEAL played by Alex O’Loughlin, has several framed military diplomas and a slew of so-called “challenge coins,” the souvenirs inscribed with a unit’s insignia or emblem that military officers trade. He has a minifridge stocked with green tea and water. He’s reading Hugh Miller’s discussion of forensic science, “What the Corpse Revealed.” (Just don’t look inside his desk drawers —; there’s correspondence from the Screen Actors Guild.)
And even as Lenkov filled HQ with back-stories, he built a tribute to the original series that can never be explained to viewers.
Inside McGarrett’s office he’s placed a coat rack that once stood in Jack Lord’s office when he played McGarrett and a painting of a schooner that closely resembles the artwork the original “Five-0” boss hung in his office. There’s also a model of a sailing vessel displayed inside a glass case. There was one just like it in Lord’s HQ, but no one at CBS knows what happened to it. The production designers bought this one on eBay.
THE OTHER offices are just as layered with details that are nearly impossible to spot without a close-up.
Danno Williams, the East Coast transplant portrayed by Scott Caan, has a photo of the Brooklyn Bridge and a clay police car from his daughter painted with the words “Happy B-Day.”
If you could examine the trophies on Chin Ho’s bookcase, you would discover he was a martial arts champion at the 17th Annual Kobundo Tournament and recipient of several civic achievement awards. And like Danno, he reads the local daily newspaper.
Kono (Grace Park), the recent police academy grad and surfer, keeps a beach cruiser bike and a surfboard in the same space she stores her textbooks.
This kind of detail serves the actors as well as fans, Turner said.
"It’s important because when the actors are in their offices, it reminds them of their back-story," he said. "It reminds them about who they are and where they came from."
It’s also a hint about where they’re going. Lenkov, who has a long resume in episodic television, has used props as if they were seeds that will blossom in later stories.
"He has ideas for all these things," Turner said.
The trick is to watch closely. Lenkov even says as much.
"You may not catch the details in every episode, but over the course of 24 hours of television every year, you might just start to get a sense of what’s in there, what is on display, what’s meaningful to each character," he said. "And if you pay very close attention, there are clues that will help unravel some of our show’s mysteries."