TV Production in The Time of Coronavirus

5 minutes
montage of video stills featuring Weird Al and others

What happens when you can’t produce a show in a studio full of techs, talent, and an audience?

You shoot it from home!

Cheaper solutions are everywhere, and they are looking better and better as their use is expanded over the broadcast and digital spectrum.

Early on, as the news chat shows like ABC NIGHTLINE (of which I was a producer)  brought in guests from far away, lines and loops from the phone companies were standard but had to be ordered often way in advance. As time went on and shots needed to be more immediate, they were replaced with microwaves and satellite trucks, creating live, up-to-the-minute content, but this was still bulky and needed professional crews to handle the gear.

Then along came Skype, FaceTime, Webex, and now, Zoom. And with a little light and a decent camera and mic, everyone’s home could become a makeshift TV studio.

Woman setting up a video camera on set

Every day, these homemade shots are looking better and better. Granted, some of the pros have unmanned field TV gear in their homes, but not everyone does, and the guests probably don’t. So how is it being used? Here are some recent examples thanks to a skim of recently published stories.

New shows are being created that focus on how to feel connection while social distancing: “Set to air Saturday, April 18, from 8-10 p.m. ET/PT, One World: Together at Home saw NBC’s Jimmy Fallon, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and CBS’ Stephen Colbert host the broadcast, which was produced in partnership with Global Citizen and the World Health Organization.”

CBS’s All Rise is going back into production for a virtually-produced episode inspired by the COVID-19 crisis. The drama, from Warner Bros. TV and CBS TV Studios, will be filmed using Facetime, Zoom, and other online technology. “It’s a unique chance for ourAll Rise family to band together – in our different homes, even cities – to tell a story about resilience, justice, and the power of community,” said executive producer Greg Spottiswood. While talk shows have returned with hosts working from home, All Rise is the first scripted series to be produced virtually.

MSNBC and CNN are doing Town Hall programs with guests and hosts from multiple online locations.

The late-night shows are being produced from the homes of the hosts. Trevor NoahStephen Colbert, and John Oliver have all been producing remotely.

Concerts are being produced using the meeting software with artists’ collaborations from their homes.

What was once the domain of the video blog (full disclosure, I’m a regular on TechCrunch TV’s “Gillmor Gang”) is now a mainstay of today’s modern media landscape.

But I have some questions:

Much of local news all over the country is being done from home. Producers are doing lineups, interviews are happening online, elements are being fed over the internet to editors who assemble and distribute the finished product, music production, and video post-production, have become collaborative home efforts.

It seems to me, the longer we are working from home, the better TV production in the time of coronavirus will become.

But will it persevere?