When I was a kid, my grandfather (who was an architect) offered an explanation to me that I don't remember, but it's very common on TV shows (especially older shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show that the front door to, say Mary's apartment will be at a higher level than the main part of her living room.

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  • Is it some sort of set design challenge - assuming its within a studio to avoid you being able to see the floor the studio itself outside the room. You would expect to see a path and garden - but if you are looking up you wouldn't notice that being missing.
    – iandotkelly
    Aug 13, 2020 at 21:14
  • Just a wild guess: most of the floor that you see is the actual stage floor; but the walls and doors have to move into place and out of place as the scene requires. So the walls were more sound structurally if designed this way, with a continuous base with no gap to create the doorway.
    – Chaim
    Aug 13, 2020 at 22:18
  • Could you maybe provide an image of what you mean?
    – Kitkat
    Aug 14, 2020 at 14:18
  • @Kitkat Added a picture Aug 14, 2020 at 15:23
  • This architectural style appears to be called a "sunken living room" for what it's worth.
    – Kitkat
    Aug 14, 2020 at 15:48

1 Answer 1


Sunken living rooms were very popular in houses built in the 1960s and 70s, where they are often used in open plan designs to create "rooms" without walls, or to add ceiling height without raising the roof level.

They define the space. Sunken spaces are great for large, open concept homes. When walls are few, having rooms on a lower level clearly delineates the space without destroying any sight lines. The feeling of openness is preserved without losing any definition between, say, the living room and the kitchen.


So on shows made in or set during the 1970s (or in homes that were built during the 1970s), you would expect to see sunken living areas, as a reflection of the architectural trends of the times.

The Dick Van Dyke Show has also been identified as both a reflection of and contributor to that trend.

Hollywood caught on, making a sunken living room the focal point of home life on the The Dick Van Dyke Show in the ’60s. The trend had been validated.

Soon homeowners across the world were scrambling to be en vogue with step-down living spaces.


Given how influential The Dick Van Dyke Show (and later The Mary Tyler Moore Show) was, you would also expect later shows to have been influenced by it's sets.

There is also the obvious practical benefit for a multiple-camera sitcom that is demonstrated in your image: raising the upstage area means that the cameras can shoot characters back there without the foreground set elements blocking them.

  • 2
    The second point, that it allows the camera to see over the furniture, seems like the better answer to me. But the first answer has the virtue of explaining why the style in television seems to be passing like the passing style in real (non-television) architecture of the 1960's and 1970's, not permanent like the desire to see Rhoda enter.
    – Chaim
    Aug 17, 2020 at 21:09

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