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Celebrity Show-Off (Image: WarnerMedia)

As we get a full three months into COVID-19 lockdown, we’re starting to see ripples through entertainment media. With theaters closed, movies are being released directly to streaming, video games are being delayed, musicians are cancelling tours, and television—well, television is a hot mess. The production window for TV is much shorter than most other media, resulting in hours of airtime to fill and not much to put there.

Enter the age of quarantine TV, where shows are put together by producers using the uniquely awkward Zoom-centric social space in which we now find ourselves. While traditional dramas and comedies aren’t likely to see new episodes until gathering bans are lifted, other shows have pivoted to make it work. We saw The Voice and American Idol wrap up with all of the contestants singing at home, while The Blacklist producers used computer animation to “shoot” missing scenes for the season finale.

But the content flow cannot be stopped; studios are finding ways to film in the era of isolation. Here’s a rundown of some of the most notable quarantine TV shows hitting the airwaves.

Format Changes in the Age of COVID

Several shows are following the Blacklist model, replacing live action with animation. Pop TV’s One Day At A Time took an unfilmed script from the current season and turned it into a cartoon that premiered on June 16, with guest voices from Gloria Estefan and Lin-Manuel Miranda. New animated series are still premiering as well, like Central Park on Apple TV+.

Some shows have continued to produce new episodes with COVID-19-specific tweaks. Professional wrestling shows like WWE Raw and AEW Dynamite, which are typically aired live from arenas full of fans, have cancelled those events and replaced them with more intimate pre-taped programming. A handful of wrestling trainees stand behind plexiglass barriers, hooting and hollering to simulate the vibe of a live crowd.

The monthly pay-per-view spectaculars, which typically feature story-concluding action, have also changed. Performers are now doing “cinematic matches,” which dispense with the traditional wrestling ring and referee to take fake fighting to some strange new places. We’ve seen the Undertaker bury AJ Styles in a supernatural “Boneyard Match,” and at the recently aired WWE Backlash, what started as a bout for the tag team titles transformed into a bizarre experience featuring dumpster monsters, biker ninjas, and a viking wrestler using the Force to pull a turkey leg into his hand.

Other shows are resuming regular filming, with some tweaks for a post-pandemic world. Australian soap opera Neighbours, which has aired since 1985, opened its sets up again in June. Actors are now expected to do their own hair and makeup, and are being filmed individually, then spliced together in editing. When a scene would call for interpersonal contact, like kissing or fighting, the camera cuts away and lets the audience’s imagination do the work instead.

A New Era of Scripted TV

Game shows lend themselves well to social distancing. Nickelodeon ordered Game Face, which hides celebrities behind voice filters and animated avatars, tasking contestants with guessing who they are based on a series of clues. They’ve also scheduled a talk show, Group Chat: The Show, where hosts and kids shoot the breeze on trending topics on social media. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a few other networks follow in their footsteps.

Tournament of Laughs debuted on TBS this week; the competition show pits stand-up comedians against each other in a single-elimination bracket where voters at home pick the funniest set. All the clips were lensed from the performers’ homes, with some pretty big names taking part, including Jim Norton and Cameron Esposito.

Two days later, the same network debuted Celebrity Show-Off, based on a Korean series. Famous and semi-famous folks like Bella Thorne, Kevin Smith, and Ja Rule show off their unique talents in pre-taped videos (besides the ones they make money from) from home, with viewers voting for their favorites.

The Rush to Fill Schedules

The biggest impacts aren’t going to come until the fall, when networks typically debut new series and returning seasons. Production shut down in March, and these last few months are when studios would have been stockpiling material to fill out the rest of the year. With that off the table, broadcast networks are scrambling to find something to put in time slots. The CW has already announced that it will probably start the season no earlier than January, and other networks—which typically schedule upfront previews in May—are keeping mum.

One of their biggest hopes is the return of live sports, which are typically among the top-rated shows on broadcast TV. Both the NFL and college football are operating on a schedule that could see the regular season start on time, but it’s still up in the air what those games will look like—will the stands be packed with cardboard cutouts, like we’ve seen in baseball games overseas, or will social distancing have spectators sitting 6 feet apart?

Some of the major networks are also opting to grab previously streaming-exclusive shows and debut them to a new audience. Fox picked up the two-season L.A.’s Finest, a cop show starring Gabrielle Union that previously streamed on Spectrum Cable’s bespoke service. The CW has dipped even deeper, grabbing Swamp Thing from DC Universe along with a trio of other shows.

Because they’re not beholden to advertisers, Netflix, Hulu, and the rest can debut new shows whenever they want, staggering them throughout the year. In addition, those services have primed audiences to accept foreign programming, so they have a massive backlog of shows from around the world to air until domestic production can begin anew. We’d expect the viewer shift from traditional broadcast to streaming will only accelerate as the year goes on.

The COVID-19 pandemic may be three months in, but we’re only at the beginning of the entertainment disruption. TV is a harbinger for other mediums because production shutdowns across the board will eventually catch up to film and gaming. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how media adapts to the new world, and processes its effects in the future.

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