Nothing’s final yet, but executives at the major broadcast TV networks are now working under the assumption that few — if any — of the dozens of series that halted production in recent days because of the coronavirus pandemic will be returning anytime soon. Per multiple TV industry insiders, it now seems almost certain most series already on the air will end their seasons early, anywhere from one to four episodes short of their planned full-season orders. “Realistically, every show that shut production down is done,” one exec told Vulture.
When networks, studios, and streaming platforms last week began announcing they were shutting down production to safeguard the health of casts and crews, they generally described the pauses as “temporary,” suggesting they’d reassess the situation in a few weeks. But now, even if the rosiest scenarios for the course of the pandemic play out — if, say, the CDC suggests in two or three weeks that it might be safe to loosen social-distancing measures — the industry insiders Vulture spoke with believe it won’t matter. While it might be possible to resume filming in early April and still complete an episode or two in time for this broadcast season, it won’t be practical in most cases. “It just doesn’t make a sense to come back in a month for the last episode or two,” one insider told us.
That’s because of the costs associated with shutting down and starting up productions, not to mention concerns about crew contracts and actor commitments. Assuming a production returns to anything near normal within a month, folks may have already booked other assignments or otherwise not be available to work all the way into May. In fact, at least four shows have already told cast and crew their seasons are over, sources told Vulture, confirming that fact on the condition that the names of the productions not be published since official decisions haven’t been announced yet. (It is likely, however, that this news will start leaking out in the coming days, sources said.)
While in past years, networks might have shuffled their schedules to ensure new episodes continued through May, when the TV season officially ends, it seems more likely networks will air new episodes in March and April as scheduled to take advantage of the fact that so many people will be home during the next few weeks. “A lot of people are going to be sitting around watching TV,” one exec said. That would result in more reruns than usual in May, unless networks start interrupting planned entertainment broadcasts in favor of news specials or other event programming designed to serve audiences home under quarantine. NBC, for example, has already announced plans for an NBC News special to air March 19 at 10 p.m.
The production halt will affect shows very different ways, depending on where they were in their production schedule. Some comedies, including Modern Family and Carol’s Second Act, wrapped production weeks ago, so they’ll air their full seasons as planned. Some dramas have several episodes left to film, but because they’re procedural in nature (like the Dick Wolf Chicago franchise), there might not be a ton of plotlines left lingering for viewers if the season ends early. But in other cases, showrunners were working toward a big finale, and finishing early could mean seasons end with a whimper.
It is also possible, by the way, that a handful of network shows will find a way to finish up their season orders earlier if the showrunner has enough clout or it makes financial sense — think a big hit such as Grey’s Anatomy. Warner Bros. and the CW might also be facing a very tough call in coming weeks: The series finale of Supernatural has not yet been filmed. It’s hard to think the network and studio will want to just let the show end without a good-bye, but depending on when production can resume, it might be hard to get the cast and Vancouver-based crew back together again. All of this is just speculation, however: Officially, nothing has been decided about either Grey’s or Supernatural.
It’s worth noting that the shortened seasons, at least for now, apply mostly to broadcast series. Most cable and streaming shows wrap production before their first episodes air, so it’s unlikely there’ll be suddenly shortened seasons for shows that have already started airing. Delays for upcoming series are more likely: FX just pushed back next month’s planned return of Fargo, and it seems possible CBS All Access could delay the April return of The Good Fight. While episodes of these shows likely won’t resume filming this season, it is entirely possible those episodic commitments get rolled over to next season, resulting in longer runs for some shows next season.
Linear broadcast networks are just starting to think about other potential headaches in the weeks ahead. Reality competition shows such as American Idol and The Voice were scheduled to switch to live episodes in a few weeks; it’s not yet clear how that will happen without studio audiences or if the CDC is still advising against large gatherings. Some reality shows slated to air in May or June might also be interrupted if pre-production is impossible. CBS’s second season of Love Island is set to debut in May, but it is hard to see that happening now given the world situation. Still, at least one veteran network insider said none of these worries will ultimately be that big a deal. “We work in fucking television,” the source said. “It’s not a brain surgery. We’ll be fine. This, too, shall pass.”
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