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COVID-19 on TV -- Plots and Precautions

By Brigid Mullen

As the coronavirus continues to course through the United States, the entertainment industry barrels forward with new releases. Mere months after COVID-19 first hit, with numbers only rising, production resumed on a number of TV shows and movies. Cast and crew of these productions have been working under vigorous safety precautions, with some TV shows even incorporating COVID-19 into their episodic plotlines.

Every single show filming right now has had to comply with social distancing, stay-at-home, and mask mandates, as well as more detailed guidelines for safety protocols during film and television production in order to return to the small screen. The Bachelorette returned to ABC in the fall after its production halted back in March, opting now to rent out a Palm Springs resort for the cast and crew to live in during filming instead of the show’s usual jet-setting to extravagant locations. Regular COVID-19 testing took place on set, N95 masks were required for the crew, and social distancing was employed at all times. NBC’s long-running sketch show Saturday Night Live has welcomed back its live studio audience this fall -- at 25% capacity. Each audience member must wear a face covering at all times, have their temperature checked, and pass a COVID-19 test upon arrival to filming.

The creativity of COVID-19 adaptations extends on to the screen as well -- many TV shows have incorporated the Coronavirus into their plotlines. For example, season 5 of NBC’s This Is Us began airing last fall, and follows its characters through the summer of 2020, masks and all. The premiere sees the Pearson family spend time together six feet apart, attend multiple therapy sessions over zoom, and quarantine for two weeks before meeting up for a big birthday party. ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy depicted the medical side of COVID-19, dedicating the first few episodes of season 17 to showing how the Coronavirus was hitting the show’s hospital, and how the exhausted, overworked medical staff was handling it. Reactions to each of these shows, and how they have handled the Coronavirus, have been mixed. Many use TV as a form of escapism, and don’t want to watch stories about a pandemic after we’ve all been living through one for nine months. Others feel gratified by these stories, and appreciate that these shows aren’t glossing over pivotal issues.

But Hollywood isn’t the only place where people are being forced to get creative in the name of the arts -- this fall, La Follette put on a production of its own. It seems that not even the coronavirus could stop the tenacity of the LHS theater department, as rehearsals for this year’s play, “What I Want To Say But Never Will”, began in mid-November. This production looked a little different than normal, though. The play was made up of a series of monologues from high schoolers, a form which lends itself nicely to a Zoom-confined setting. Rehearsals occurred completely over Zoom, and performances were entirely digital, streaming in mid-December. While plans for a spring musical remain up in the air, those involved with the play have cited it as a gratifying experience, and appreciate that they are being kept safe in this tumultuous time. “I think LHS theater is doing really well considering how much time we were given, and considering we have been online,” stated Cecelia Ridgeway, a La Follette sophomore participating in the play this year.

It’s nearly impossible to say what the future of the entertainment industry is going to look like. Based on what we have seen over the past few months, it’s probably safe to assume that as long as the precautions put in place keep working, TV shows and movies will continue being made. Additionally, we can expect to see a number of shows and movies detailing characters’ experiences during the coronavirus being put into production long after this is all over. As for La Follette, the chances of having a spring musical are looking slim. “I think in order to have an in-person show the world is going to have to get a lot better,” Ridgeway continued. “I don’t know if I would feel safe and comfortable being by lots of students.” For now, we are grateful that the theater department has been able to put on a play, while keeping everyone safe.

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