TALKING POINT: Will television every recover from coronavirus?
Covid-19 has changed the way we live our daily lives. All the things we used to do automatically as part of a routine – taking a bus, shopping in a supermarket, going to a pub or restaurant – we now have to prepare for and plan. We have to think about them before we do them.
For some of us, the changes have been more severe and frightening than for others. The pandemic has hit a range of industries, from tourism and hospitality to retail and manufacturing, hard. A lot of people have been left without jobs.
One of the hardest hit industries of all, even though it might not be the first one that comes to most people’s minds, is television. Globally, 60pc of television production shut down virtually overnight, causing massive unemployment.
As early as March, one of the
entertainment trade papers reported that at least 170,000 people between the UK and the US had lost their jobs. One can only imagine what the worldwide figure is at the moment.
Those at the apex of the TV food chain — the wealthy, big-name actors and presenters, the top-level broadcasting executives, the hotshot producers and directors — will be fine. They’ll ride out the storm.
The people suffering most are the ones who keep the television production machine’s wheels turning: the cinematographers, editors, camera crew, lighting and sound technicians, set designers and countless other craft professionals.
The vast majority of these people aren’t rich. They don’t have staff positions or lucrative long-term contracts. They’re freelancers who live from one job to the next.
Right now, they don’t know when that next job is coming, For some of them, it may never come. If and when the dust settles, it’s likely the TV industry will have changed forever.
The good news is that the wheels have started turning again. The British papers made much of the fact that production has resumed on the soaps Coronation Street and EastEnders — albeit using skeleton crews and a limit on the number of actors appearing in a single scene (cast members over 70 are excluded for now).
Meanwhile, American television has also been given permission to start work again. But let’s not fool ourselves; it’s going to be a long, slow, complicated and, for the people involved, perilous process.
It’s one thing shooting a soap that can get by with scenes featuring two or three socially-distanced actors.
It’s quite another resuming production on a major drama series with a large cast of characters, complex set-ups, dozens of extras, a mix of studio-based and on-location filming, and a production team running into the hundreds.
The complications are many. Cast and crew members will most likely have to be tested daily for Covid-19, which will slow filming down and cause budgets to balloon. Insurance costs are also likely to soar.
Shooting scenes with actors having to socially distance will require logistical gymnastics from scriptwriters, cinematographers, editors and directors.
One or two cases of Covid-19 could shut down an entire production, meaning more costly delays.
Initial forecasts that popular US series would return to television in 2021 seem wildly optimistic. With Covid-19 cases in America predicted to hit three million yesterday, there’s no guarantee there won’t be another production shutdown.
It’s likely the television we watch will be very different from now on. There might be fewer multi-season dramas and more
mini-series and one-offs. Smaller-scale stories could come back into fashion.
As broadcasters cut their financial cloth to fit the new reality, existing series with solid rather than spectacular viewing figures might be sacrificed altogether. That could mean that a lot of very good television never returning to our screens.
Many of the jobs that were lost during the shutdown might never come back, either. That, ultimately, is the saddest scenario of all.
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