To counter the magnifying effect HDTV has on blue tones, Jim Fenhagen ordered up last-minute tweaks for the September debut of CBS's The NFL Today: posterized graphics of players, and panels in a deep, arterial red. The set boasts a skull-busting total of 47 TV screens.

The set for Isaac Mizrahi's show is carved out of the designer's actual work space and will feature a "fashion closet" for turning dowdy guests into vamping fashionistas.

For this self-referential portrait of Stephen Colbert, the pseudo-conservative blowhard at the center of The Colbert Report, Fenhagen had a photographer shoot him, then "messed with it to make it look like a painting." Inside the fireplace is a video of fire on a flat-screen TV. The Peabody and Emmy awards on the mantel are real; the T in Colbert is silent.

Fenhagen created a hyperpatriotic bully pulpit for Colbert; fittingly, all radial lines converge on the archangel of information: "I am the source of light, the Sun King," says the star, whose name and initials are embedded everywhere. "My character's infallible. That doesn't go over too well at home."

On Colbert, the scales of justice share shelf space with a pocket-sized version of the Ten Commandments, a mini Rosetta stone (out of sight), and a kerchiefed porker. Significance? Only the twisted minds at Comedy Central really know.

Fenhagen is a firm believer in the power of detail. In Colbert's case, he and his staff filled the bookshelves with portraits of failed Supreme Court nominees, seminal reference texts from the Chicken Soup series, plus lots of Ayn Rand and Tom Clancy.

Colbert's signature "eagle's nest" was constructed from a wreath, then embellished with feathers, twigs, and a few random bones. Sadly, the San Francisco Zoo's baby bald eagle, affectionately known as "Stephen Jr." on the show, has yet to pay a visit.

To give CBS's HD broadcast additional depth, Fenhagen used layers of glass over screens. "The talent is sandwiched between imagery, surrounded by dynamic graphics and scores," he says. Ratings for the debut were up 25% over the opening weekend last year.

In Fenhagen's own studio, designers are housed in individual greenhouses within a Manhattan high-rise. They're little "idea incubators," he says.

Fenhagen had a message from Martha Stewart the morning after her release from the clink. He based the new set for her show on the Connecticut site of her home confinement, duplicating doorknobs, cabinetry, faucets, sinks, even paint ("Bedford Grey"). Unlike most TV sets, this one is fully operational. And terribly high-end.

For the midterm elections, The Daily Show will move to swing-state territory, an Ohio set done in "deeply original red, white, and blue," says executive producer Ben Karlin. Of the visual metaphors in place for the broadcast, he asks: "Are you familiar with Caligula and the fall of Rome?"