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How Has The Coronavirus Pandemic Altered The 2020 Fall Primetime TV Schedule?

One of the things the media hasn’t fully addressed the affects most of us especially being shuttered in and expecting a second wave that we are told may be worst than the first is how it affects the 2020 Primetime TV. Outside of the affects to the sports world if we have to stay at home what about Primetime TV.

Most TV series have had to pause production or cut their seasons short as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The spring schedule has been drastically changed, with many finales being pushed up or indefinitely delayed, and several medical dramas and other series have stepped up to offer their props and costumes to local hospitals amid the unexpected hiatus to help meet the first responders’ needs. Late-night hosts, SNL, and news anchors have been filming at-home episodes, and at least one scripted show, CBS’s All Rise, following suit by filming a quarantine episode at the actors’ homes.

With as coronavirus cases are spiking in California, especially Southern California how will this affect Hollywood and the taping of the fall season? That’s the one topic I haven’t heard any media outlets discussing. If you thought people went madd with March Maddness, tell people they have to stay home in the fall without the luxury of their favorite primetime night dramas and sitcoms to help them navigate through these uncharted waters we will be facing in the fall.

The coronavirus has put a production hold on hundreds of scripted and unscripted entertainment programs that are expected to air this year. Simply put, it is wreaking havoc on the network’s annual program development calendar.

Although streaming services order programming year-round and are more likely than broadcasters to order a program straight to series—without ordering a pilot—the English-language broadcast networks, by and large, continue to follow a programming calendar that has been in place for decades. Below is what the program development calendar characteristically looks like for broadcast TV according to Forbes Magazine.

  • First, network entertainment executives are pitched scripts for potential programs from studios, showrunners, etc.
  • In January and February of each year, the broadcast networks order (or greenlight) pilots. After a pilot is picked up, cast members are named.
  • In March, pilots are filmed, and network entertainment execs review dailies.
  • In April, network execs evaluate and audience-test program pilots. At the same time, ad sales executives hold program development meetings with ad agency executives to go over their program needs for the upcoming season and assess the pilot season.
  • In mid-May, the networks announce their upcoming programming schedule for the fall with upfront presentations in front of advertisers across Manhattan.
  • In late May, buyers begin to negotiate ad costs with network account executives in a process called the upfront marketplace. Advertisers buy upfront ad time for a 52-week period that begins in the fall.
  • Depending on the ad marketplace, the upfront negotiations are usually completed by mid-summer, with billions of ad dollars negotiated. In 2019, the broadcast networks secured $10.2 billion for prime-time ads while cable TV booked another $11.7 billion.
  • The 2020-21 broadcast season is scheduled to begin the week of September 21.

Like virtually every other business, the programming calendar and TV advertising have been thrown into disarray by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Carolyn Finger, the senior VP of Variety Business Intelligence, tells Forbes: “The COVID-19 virus could not have come at a more inopportune time in the program development calendar. With the exception of post-production, every element in the program development season is being impacted by the coronavirus.” Because of COVID-19, many new and returning programs, both scripted and unscripted, have stopped production. The exception has been late-night, where the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert have adapted and re-started production.

The live upfront presentations, scheduled to begin on May 11, have all been canceled, replaced by virtual and live streaming events. The questions are, what will the upfront ad marketplace look like, and how will entertainment executives be able to cobble together a programming schedule at these virtual upfronts?

NBC unveiled plans Tuesday, June 16th, for a fall schedule that looks a lot like last fall’s, despite a COVID-19 pandemic that has left TV production at a standstill, at least for now.

The main unanswered question is when the “fall season” will actually begin.

NBC says it will air nine dramas this fall, including top-rated “This Is Us” and new spinoff “Law & Order: Organized Crime,” along with Sunday Night Football, “The Voice” (with Gwen Stefani returning) and just two comedies, “Superstore” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” 

None of them have begun filming yet; ordinarily, that wouldn’t begin until July. But early signs of reopening Hollywood – CBS soap “The Bold and the Beautiful” is expected to resume taping Wednesday, the first broadcast series to do so – signal the potential for some sense of stability.  CBS has also announced a traditional fall schedule, but CW and Fox have scheduled fill-in programming, and have benched their regular lineups until January.  

On Tuesday, June 30th, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert in infection diseases in the U.S., testified before Congress amid growing alarm surrounding the 80% spike in confirmed COVID-19 infections in the previous two weeks. About halfway through the session, Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked Fauci for a direct assessment of where the country could be headed if the surge in cases is not abated. He did not mince words.

“We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day,” Fauci said. “I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned.”

The implications of Fauci’s alarming forecast are clear to anyone who lived through the previous three months: hospitals moving perilously close to over-capacity, states retrenching into strict quarantines, and an already tattered economy plunging deeper into the abyss. That potential future is especially dire for the entertainment industry, which already has record levels of unemployment as the pandemic all but halted production throughout film and television, effectively freezing the content pipeline and cutting off millions of livelihoods.

The shutdown had just started to soften this month, as a handful of U.S. productions — ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” CBS’s “The Bold and the Beautiful” — began slowly getting back to work, with others quietly preparing to start up again in the coming months. Those plans were predicated, however, on the assumption that COVID-19 cases were either leveling off or dropping nationwide, providing a safer environment for productions to move forward.

Instead, cases have exploded. California hit record numbers of daily confirmed cases, led by Los Angeles county (the home of Hollywood), which has hit over 103,000 total cases of the over 230,000 total cases statewide. Cases are similarly skyrocketing in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, while the popular production hubs of Louisiana, Georgia and New Mexico are seeing a precipitous rise as well.

If a production is able to adhere to necessary health and safety protocols, it still has to find a location that is safe enough for the dozens or hundreds of people required to be on set — and live nearby — especially in states like Georgia and Louisiana. Both have aggressively tried to reopen, sometimes against the advice of public health officials.

Of course, finding a geographic location is just the first step: Productions still need to settle on an environment both suitable for the creative demands of the script and the logistic necessities of filming in the middle of a pandemic. That isn’t easy.

“Nobody wants us on the street,: showrunner Michelle King (“The Good Fight,” “Evil”) said in the “Night in the Writers’ Room” Variety roundtable. “We’re having to write toward filming on our sets, but then every health provider can agree on only a few things, and that’s that you don’t want to be indoors with a lot of people for long periods of time — which is filming on a stage. It really is a conundrum…there’s nothing to talk about if you can’t be on a stage. That is crucial.”

With dwindling options in the U.S., some productions are beginning to entertain moving to Europe, where COVID-19 spread is far more under control.

As the British rock band Queen on their twelfth and final track on their 1991 album Innuendo. The Show Must Go On.’ But if COVID-19 Coronavirus has anything to say about it, no matter how defiant Trump and his followers are, The Show Might Have To Be Paused. So far like the 2020-2021 school year, we are on an uncertain, wait and see what happens approach, again I ask where does that leave our Fall Primetime TV season. Let’s hope networks at least held on to some good mid-season replacements and Netflix doesn’t run out of new content.

ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke outlined the stringent measures necessary to ensure the safety of all involved.

“The producers and the crew will be living together with the cast in a quarantine fashion in one location,” she said. “There won’t be travel.”

Burke typically locks in her primetime schedule for the fall in the spring, presenting it to the nation’s advertisers in May at a glamorous venue like the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. But this year, a virtual presentation had to suffice.

“We’re calling it our premiere schedule, out of respect for the work that still has to be done to make sure we’re getting safety back to production,” she said.

Each show will have to adapt to new ways of working in the aftermath of COVID-19.

“‘Big Sky’ is a show that takes place in Montana, so lots of outdoor scenes,” Burke said of one of three new shows she has commissioned. “And it’s a thriller, so there’s a lot of intimate scary scenes that just take place with two people talking.”

Visual effects may be used because crowd scenes are obviously problematic.

The series “For Life” can’t start up again because it’s made in New York City, but it was renewed in part because recent events have made it so timely. The series about a man fighting for justice after he was falsely imprisoned has more resonance after the recent protests.

Also, Burke brought back “Black-ish” as part of her mission “to raise up black voices, and to create spaces for black storytelling and storytelling for all under represented groups.”

She calls this “an inflection point” and quotes the musical “Hamilton,” saying, “This is not a moment, but a movement,” and she determined the network will reflect this.

“And so I am hopeful that out of this comes really just important and wonderful and more relevant storytelling than maybe we’ve seen in the past decade,” she said.

Of course, in these pandemic-ified times, “fall” is the vaguest of terms. The safety protocols for starting production back up on TV shows have only recently been put forth for consideration (and ratification by unions), so save for a few bold and beautiful souls, no one has yet committed to a back-to-work date (traditionally late June to mid-July for fall shows).

But in an ideal world, this grid represents what each network will be airing at some point, in each time slot. As well reported, Fox and The CW opted for pandemic-proof schedules that rely on already-produced or acquired content, whereas ABC, CBS and NBC are aiming for some version of “business as usual,” eventually.

Fall TV Schedule 2018

ABC: $100,000 Pyramid, American Idol, The Bachelor, black-ish, CALL YOUR MOTHER, Card Sharks, For Life and mixed-ish

CBS: CLARICE, S.W.A.T. and Undercover Boss

FOX: 9-1-1, 9-1-1: Lone Star, Beat Shazam, CALL ME KAT, Duncanville, THE GREAT NORTH, Hell’s Kitchen, HOUSEBROKEN, Last Man Standing, Prodigal Son, The Resident and any returning shows not yet renewed (e.g. LEGO Masters)

NBC: Ellen’s Game of Games, Good Girls, KENAN, MR. MAYOR, SMALL FORTUNE, THAT’S MY JAM, TRUE STORY, YOUNG ROCK, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

THE CW (Early 2021): All American, Batwoman, Black Lightning, Charmed, The Flash, Legacies, Nancy Drew, Riverdale, SUPERMAN & LOIS, WALKER… (Spring 2021) DC’s Legends of Tomorrow; Dynasty, In the Dark, KUNG FU, THE REPUBLIC OF SARAH, Roswell New Mexico, Supergirl and any returning shows not yet renewed (e.g. Katy Keene)

Let’s hope for the best but prepare for he worst. With numbers spiking as I write this, no one actually knows what’s going to happen with the 2020 Fall Season. What are your thoughts, leave us your feedback in the comment section below.

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About AJ Woodson (2369 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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