In line with a major revamp to its proceedings, Countdown was brought up to date with a stylish, state-of-the-art set design for the beginning of its 60th series, which commenced on 12th January 2009. Dubbed the "original" blue set, its launch went hand-in-hand with the debut of new presenters Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley.
The redevelopment of the set was placed in the capable hands of production designer Nick King, whose credits include the fellow popular game show University Challenge. He had the show's garish excess of pink and purple (used from 2003) rejuvenated into a glacial colour scheme. Graphics and construction were carried out by manufacturing specialist Stage One. The set received a rounded design, divided into three sections by semi-transparent screens. The screens acted as the main studio backdrop and featured a blue motif comprising an assortment of overlapping letters, numbers, mathematical symbols and calculations, all of which were of different sizes and set in the Futura Condensed Extra Bold font. A series of rotating spotlights projected onto them from behind to provide the set with an animated effect.
Surrounding the screens was an arrangement of support beams, as well as a shorter section consisting of a glossy brown marble finish to offset the floods of blue. The vacant areas between the beams enabled the turquoise backdrop to filter through. Each of the three main sections were housed by a column at both ends, with those around the centre extending in height and connecting to two upper rounded panels.
For this design, the studio flooring was also given an overhaul, shifting from the traditional chevron look to a tile pattern, complete with blue-filtered and elongated diamond shapes emerging from the central podium. Six floor-mounted wedge blocks sat directly in front of the wall panels, equally spaced out around the set to line up with the centre of the screens and their surrounding columns.
To the left side of the studio was a circular platform, on which stood the newly constructed letters and numbers board. Behind the podium were additional curved panels matching the letters and numbers motif, with gridded metallic framework directly in front to add more shimmer from the studio lighting. For the first time, the boards used during the rounds were built back-to-back as a single prop — beforehand, the two were separate models and had been embedded into the set walls prior to becoming freestanding for the pink stripes design. The new boards being positioned behind each other equipped them with a compact design, and they were now rotated between shots when the appropriate one was required. To match the new colour scheme, they were repainted blue.
The Countdown clock was refurbished in line with the makeover, with changes including new chrome and marble finishes around the edges, and a metallic grid panel being installed in the centre of the pedestal to add definition by reflecting the studio lighting.
In June 2009, the show's filming location changed for the first time ever, following the proposed closure of The Leeds Studios earlier that year. Production moved to the Granada Studios in Manchester, where episodes up to 18th January 2013 were filmed. Midway through the show's memorable 30th Birthday Championship, it transferred to its third permanent home of MediaCityUK in Salford Quays, where it remains today. Upon the move to the site, the set was issued with a few subtle yet noticeable uplifts consisting primarily of new scoreboards and brighter studio lighting. A setup failure resulted in the traditional seven-segment LED monitors — used to display the contestants' scores and the target figure in numbers rounds — being replaced by LCD flatscreens displaying the relevant information in white text (set in Futura Bold) against a blue background, emulating the letter and number tiles. The move to MediaCity generated a more vivid lighting setup in the studio, allowing the setting to be significantly brighter than it had been beforehand.
Later in the 2013 recordings, the clock hand began to malfunction by resting on the left side of the face, and couldn't be reinstated to its normal position — at times, it had to be physically hammered into place by crew members between shots. With the issue progressively worsening and causing several filming delays, the original clock was taken away. An identical replica was built, which made its debut on 11th September of that year, during Series 69. The hand on the newer model was given a modified design, now absent of the arc-shaped piece on the end (referred to as a tail) and brighter segment lights for during the countdown sequence.
A significant move made during this era of the programme was the retirement of the traditional paper dictionary used by Susie Dent. The somewhat controversial change, effective from the start of Series 71, saw the hardcover Third Edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE3) be exchanged for an Apple MacBook. This furthermore culminated in the removal of the handheld pencam used to display the dictionary's definition of certain long or interesting words. Since the laptop's introduction, Countdown has consulted both the free and premium versions of Oxford Dictionaries Online (ODO) for adjudication purposes.
As the years passed with the "original" blue set in production, it became the longest-running set design to not be given any major refurbishments (despite the wings set remaining in use for eleven years, it underwent three production enhancements). By late 2016, however, it was drastically wearing out, with the letters board in particular suffering from paint scuffs due to constant usage, while the border around its circular platform was split and hanging off in some places. In April 2017, Rachel Riley revealed that a makeover had been given to the set via her Twitter and Instagram profiles, which made its debut appearance on the regular show at the beginning of Series 77 on 3rd July 2017. It was clear that the "original" blue set inspired the look of the succeeding design, as both share the concept of the blue "motifed" screens.
Source: screenshots from YouTube of episode 6285