How the Pandemic Is Coming to Prime Time

Last June, when “Grey’s Anatomy” The writers’ room was rebuilt, in fact, after a longer than usual interval, Krista Wernoff, a long-time listener, asked whether the coming season should include the coronovirus epidemic.

“I like 51-49 for not having an epidemic,” he told his staff. “Because we are all so tired of it. We are all very scared. We are all very depressed. And we came to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ for relief, right? “

But he was open to counter-arguments. And when he asked volunteers to come and talk to him about what he remembered recently, hands went up in almost every zoom window. The show’s senior surgical consultant, Nasser Alzari, made the most compelling case: the epidemic was a story of a lifetime, he told her, speaking to the clinic where he was treating Kovid-19 patients. “Gray” had the responsibility to explain this.

How the Pandemic Is Coming to Prime Time
How the Pandemic Is Coming to Prime Time

Internet, hospital drama, first-responder shows, status comedy and court rooms were having similar debates in all rooms. To ignore the events of spring and summer – the epidemic, America’s belated racial racking – meant keeping the prime-time series out of the (well, even out) observable reality. But the inclusion of them potentially meant exhausting an already depleted audience and covering telegenic stars with eyes.

It also meant predicting the future. David Shore, listener for ABC “The Good Doctor,” Knew that scripts written in summer would not be broadcast until fall. “That’s a challenge you don’t really face normally,” he said, speaking by telephone. “Usually, when you’re writing a story, you know what the world looks like.”

Starting in October, when the scripted series began to return, and through last month’s winter premiere, viewers saw a wide variety of perspectives. Some shows have made the epidemic a star, and some have re-charged it for a background role. Others have written it out of existence. Audiences and executive producers have had to guess at best what the audience wants: television that reflects the world as we experience it? Or that provides a distraction from it, especially when that world is on fire and Sometimes really isThe

As someone who spent the early months of the epidemic, amid terrible news reports “Parks and Recreation” Episode, And which still intersect during any scene in which characters enter an interior space, is an open question. But those who actually make TV had to come up with answers.

Most sitcoms, especially the newcomer series, were written around the epidemic, often with an eye toward the Reruns. “I always believe in making comedies that don’t seal a heavy time,” Chuck lorePopular CBS comedians of the past and present (“Big Bang Theory,” “Mom”) wrote in an email. “A Reason for Surviving the Pandemic and the Bells.”

“Mr. Mayor,” It premiered last month on NBC, handling it in a punchline: “Dolly Parton bought everyone a vaccine,” says Ted Danson’s novice Politico.

“last Man Standing,” A Fox family sitcom starring Tim Allen decided to move two years in between seasons. Looking ahead to a January debut, listener Kevin Abbott speculated that by then the best pandemic jokes would have been told and that scripts reflecting reality would have to be darkened as well.

“People are already depressed,” he said. “We really didn’t want to add it.” Facing the epidemic also meant that the show would not have to disturb the audience, which is stereotyped like the star of the show. (Alan comes out, at least on Twitter, as Pro mask.)

“It was better for us not to actually deal with it, because that’s not something our show is specifically designed to deal with,” Abbott said.

Other comedies did not have that luxury, such as being more politically engaged “Black-ish,” or “Superstore,” Which is inhabited with essential worker characters.

“Our show takes place in a store,” said Jonathan Green, who performed the “Superstore” show. “It seemed to us that it could be really distracting if it was business as usual.” He and another listener, Gab Miller, felt the responsibility of showing the impact of the epidemic on retail employees. Because “Superstore” is a sitcom, not a medical drama, they felt that they could do it with light hands, when those hands were not busy on toilet paper.

The hospital show had to deal directly with this. “The Good Doctor” premiered with a coronovirus-heavy Do-Parker, then shot ahead in time.

“It must have been madness to just ignore the epidemic,” Shorey said. “On the other hand, it would have been tiring for us and our viewers to walk for the entire season.”

Fox drama “the residence” In a season premiere book it was ended by scenes set in a coronovirus-free future, where the rest of the season takes place. In one case a virus with a week’s ethos cannot survive on the virus, Amy Holden Jones, a producer, speaking by telephone. “Medically, everything you can do about Kovid is limited.”

But “Grey’s Anatomy” has spent its entire season battling epidemics with many of its major characters, including Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Gray.

“I was doing this, if we’re doing this, we’re doing this,” said Vernoff, speaking from the set by telephone. “We do not know what the drug is going to look like post-Kovid. We are not moving into the imaginary future. “

Still, she and some of the writers built in narrative relief, such as seaside fantasy scenes and some more simple emergencies, though this is not the kind of segment that involved a teenager badly burned by a wildfire, too. Relief offered. (“Sufficiently appropriate,” Vernoff replied when I mentioned him.)

The series lends a series of weft, gravitas and real ground to commit to the Kovid-19. It can also really mess with his story arcs. When “this is us” Completed its fourth season, just before the closing of last spring, the first episodes of its fifth were already written. The inclusion of the epidemic meant that Dan Fogelman, who was a listener, had to undergo significant rewriting. Suddenly family members could not fly to see each other on horseback. Pregnancy and adoption stories also required adjustment.

“Fogelman said,” It became a real challenge for us writers and storytellers to say ‘Well, we own this epidemic.’ “But we are also going to try and tell the exact story we have planned for six years.”

Other series introduced changes, both large and small. “Superstore” moved its break-room scenes into an airier warehouse set, to give its characters social distance. “Grey’s Anatomy” framed the lawn outside the writers’ bungalow as Meredith Gray’s backyard. Fox’s first-responder show, “9-1-1” And “9-1-1: Lone Star,” Participated in their disaster games.

“These shows are a very pushed reality,” Tim Minear, a producer for both “9-1-1” series, said in a phone interview. “During the last eight or nine months, reality has pushed far beyond my show. So I have to find that balance. ”(Which helps explain why the season premiere destroyed an important part of Hollywood, and also why it was felt).

Masks, especially when worn responsibly, cause problems in particular. Television relies on close-ups, medium shots and a lot of listeners refer to as “face acting”. When you cover everything from the nose, a low face may perform.

“I don’t think when Angela Bassett’s half-face is covered, it’s fun to watch TV,” Minier said.

It’s certainly easier at a medical show, because audiences are accustomed to seeing doctors, masked, in OR. “We do long sequences where we talk about emotions on an open body,” Wernoff said.

But even hospital dramas want to find ways to make the characters responsible for being spotless, which sometimes means infecting them. (Pompeo has asthma. Those fever-inducing beach scenes are designed to breathe both character and actor.)

Many listeners portrayed elaborate “mask schemes,” character coverings character and scene by scene. Portraying the appropriate hygiene risks plaguing viewers experiencing epidemic fatigue, Christopher Silber, listener for CBS “NCIS: New Orleans,” It is written in the email. But it was worth it.

He said, “The responsibility we felt is to reflect the world we live in now.” ” (Happily, this is a world that can still contain one Torpedo attack.) Some people show the mask-wearing of the lawyer in their narratives, as in ABC’s “For Life”, in which a main character rejects those who don’t wear them.

The epidemic has also replaced prime-time series in less visible ways. There are now more outdoor scenes and fewer interior space shoots. “People don’t want you in their homes; They don’t want you in their businesses, ”said Glenn Gordon Karan, listener for CBS Court Room Drama “Bull.” Abc’s “all rise” Fewer jury trials are involved. “9-1-1” limits its crowd scenes. Background players are being reduced, reused, recycled.

In general, the show has reduced its season orders and is shooting more quickly and with less time, it is better to reduce the risk for the cast and crew. The community spread over the set is short lived, But there is still some fear. ABC’s “For Life,” Having devoted the last half of his season to exploring epidemics and Black Lives Matter protests over the prison population, a lab error had to be halted for two weeks after several positive results arrived.

“We shot a bunch of Saturdays to make up for that,” the show’s producer, Hank Steinberg, said in a video call.

As the numbers increase and the virus mutates, the shows will also mutate. More series will find ways to write the epidemic. Because even a once-in-a-lifetime story doesn’t last forever, the futuristic future and slow vaccine rollouts are not unexpected, and who really wants to see another intubation?

But in a media-saturated culture of “photos or it didn’t happen”, much can be said to validate a shared and terrible experience, even with a commercial break. Until everyone can flash “I got my Kovid-19 vaccine!” Sticker, Shows that will hold our hands firmly – figuratively, because holding real hands is a terrible idea right now – reflecting our reality and helping us to bear it, case by case, laugh with laughter, mask by mask.

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