If all goes well, life could start going back to an uncertain normal by September. Nonessential workers might begin to return to their offices, schools could reopen, midsize gatherings could carefully resume but our entertainment is likely to lag for months, a haunting afterimage of the coronavirus pandemic even when the worst is finally over.
What We Know:
- Traditionally the fall television season is the biggest and boldest of the calendar year, and it starts gearing up six months or more before Labor Day. Those months, of course, are our present – but with production on nearly every show halted, and pilot season effectively dead on arrival, the fall TV season is already shaping up to be one of the strangest and most conservative in memory.
- This week, Fox became the first network to release its “pandemic proof” fall schedule, giving audiences and critics a peek into how broadcasters are thinking about their post-outbreak programming. All things considered, Fox is in a relatively good position. The network relies on animated favorites like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, and Bless the Harts, all of which can plausibly continue getting made remotely. Fox delayed two new series it has already completed – Filthy Rich, a family satire starring Kim Cattral; and neXt, a sci-fi crime drama with John Shattery – pushing them from their spring air dates back to the fall, to keep things fresh in September.
- Fox is also pulling shows from its limited platforms for network debuts (National Geographic’s Cosmos: Possible Worlds and Spectrum Cable’s A.’s Finest) and gambling on being able to quickly stitch together new seasons of reality TV, like The Masked Singer, once shooting becomes possible again perhaps later this summer. Its riskiest move of all, though, is counting on the return of sports to fill out its fall calendar.
- Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, Comcast Corp.’s NBC and ViacomCBS Inc.’s CBS are rushing to come up with their own fall lineups and aren’t expected to make any programming announcements this week, advised The Wall Street Journal.
- Reruns, naturally, will be a sure thing too. ABC is already playing with “Flashback Fridays,” while NBC has also made clear it will not hesitate to fill primetime with its hundred of hours of classic shows. Fox, meanwhile, is robbing content from its sister channels to find something fresh to air on the station after the summer ends.
- Streamers like Netflix – which don’t face the pressure of filling primetime TV spots or competing against other networks for ratings – also have an advantage of offering libraries of nostalgic favorites that can be turned back on by viewers once its new content is exhausted.
- Reality TV is one of the trickiest kinds of shows to resume because they often involve travel and social interaction. The Bachelorette, on ABC, is reportedly toying with holding Clare Crawley’s season in quarantine, foregoing the shows traditional hometown visits and trips to romantic locales. “We’ve looked at everything – are travel restrictions going to ease up? And it just doesn’t look like anything is changing anytime soon, and what we would rather do is start getting the season underway, sooner rather than later,” ABC’s reality chief Rob Mills recently told Variety, illustrating networks’ eagerness to get new content on air in any form.
- If crowds can safely gather by the summer – and television production resumes – then we might at least see more interesting, if hastily assembled slate of fall TV resulting from a combination of sports and reality TV. But the reverberations of the pandemic are already pushing into seasons ahead; Amazon’s forthcoming adaptations of Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time, which do not have air dates yet, also halted production this summer, potentially pushing them as far back as 2022.
TV is nothing if not resilient though, as a network insider assured Vulture back in mid-March, “We work in f—king television. It’s not a brain surgery. We’ll be fine. This, too, shall pass.” And it’s true that in the scheme of things, one bad fall TV season is an insignificant gripe. But there has also never been a more essential time to find relief in the form of a story, to distract ourselves with new protagonists and characters, novel plots, and worlds. Hopefully, you have not seen all the reruns.