As the coronavirus pandemic grew exponentially over the past several months, television programs were forced to utilize new mediums of delivery and production. Television has adapted to use means such as Zoom video conferencing and pre-recorded segments in order to continue the production of shows that would normally be hosted live.
On April 11, NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) was materialized as “SNL At Home”. The show, as its name suggests, is regularly filmed live but “SNL At Home” segments were deemed to be exclusively pre-recorded.
“"SNL At Home,' [replaced] its live energy with pre recorded, unadorned sketches and other short bits that both acknowledged and parodied the shared sense of Internet-only confinement,” according to a Washington Post article by TV critic Hank Stuever.
One of the main challenges that programs with live production sequences initially faced was access to equipment and quality of the product. For a majority of the television shows that continued filming, equipment was sent to cast members in order to maintain the program’s content quality.
ABC’s “Good Morning America” (GMA) and “American Idol” were among those live television shows that appropriated equipment for cast members to suit filming needs. According to a Washington Post article, "GMA" alone has required an immense amount of remote work. Members of the show’s cast reported mainly via Zoom video conferencing and had to be sure that the features of their filming location were up to the news station’s caliber.
“News anchors, talk show hosts and reality stars now moonlight as their own camera operators and lighting technicians,” the article explained.
In an effort to avoid any production delays, ABC’s “American Idol” quickly became the first reality competition show to air a completely remote television episode, according to a Washington Post article. Similar to the filming of "GMA", “American Idol” contestants, hosts and judges were sent equipment in order to provide an equal quality performance for those competing.
“They sanitized and shipped identical boxes of recording equipment to each contestant, including iPhones and a ring light,” the article said. “Engineers were dispatched to their homes to ensure various Internet connections could handle broadcast TV-caliber production. Producers set up Zoom meetings with contestants to help them create the best space to perform, and advised on lighting and camera angles.”
While filming "SNL" skits or news segments from one’s home may help in quarantine efforts, it also provides viewers with insight of how the celebrities or reporters, they watch everyday, live their personal lives. Even interruptions from pets, children or roommates provide the audience with knowledge about that person that they may not have had prior to the pandemic.
A prime example of a television star truly opening up their home and personal lives to audience members is Jimmy Fallon of “The Tonight Show”. Stuever explained that Fallon’s late night show has taken on an entirely new quality since going remote. Fallon’s show is described to be much less frenetic with studio entertainment and more comparative to his relaxed home where it is filmed. Another large production aspect of Fallon’s altered show is the presence of his wife, Nancy Juvonen. She has been recently coined as “The Tonight Show’s” chief phone-camera operator and producer, according to Stuever. While Stuever pondered the concept of a new, more relaxed version of the program emerging from the pandemic, he predicted it will likely return to its fast-paced studio energy, just as many other television programs plan to.
While television programs have scrambled to adjust their programs to fit the current circumstances, streaming platforms such as Netflix have been able to sit back and watch their viewership steadily rise. One of the few industries the coronavirus pandemic has more or less helped is streaming services.
According to a Bloomberg article by Lucas Shaw, Netflix recently posted the strongest financial results in the company’s history. The company added a record 15.8 million paying subscribers which was nearly double the prediction of Wall Street analysts. Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, also stated within Shaw’s article that the company does not anticipate running out of content any time soon, since they work much farther out than most industries. Another current source of income for the streaming company is the ability to buy films from studios that are unable to release them in theaters due to the pandemic.
“If Netflix can’t make as many movies itself, it can always buy them,” Shaw said. “Its film division will benefit from other studios being eager to offload products due to the temporary shutdown of movie theaters.”
For the entertainment forum, the pandemic has led to changes that allow streaming services to sit back and reap the benefits of millions of people with little else to do. Although live television programs currently look extremely different from what viewers are used to, the personable aspects of quarantined cast members’ lives also serve as a reminder of the humanity they share with their audience.