Inside a Writers’ Room That’s Social Distancing Itself

A pre-coronavirus One Day at a Time table read with guest star Ray Romano.
A pre-coronavirus One Day at a Time table read with guest star Ray Romano. Photo: Pop

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the TV industry, a business built on in-person collaboration, to suddenly enter the work-from-home age. While production on many TV pilots and current series has shut down — Netflix, Warner Bros., Disney, NBCUniversal, and CBS have all hit pause on at least some of their projects — at the moment, the show goes on for writers who have been advised to work remotely by their studio bosses.

Using videoconferencing tools like Skype and Zoom to facilitate collaborating at a distance, One Day at a Time co-showrunners Mike Royce and Gloria Calderón Kellett are attempting to re-create their intimate writers’ room experience as much as possible.

“It’s not the same as being in the room, but it does the job,” Royce said on the third day of working remotely with his team. “It’s a bit of an adjustment, but it’s good that you can see everybody. It’s imperfect, but it’s not far-off. Everyone still makes everybody laugh. Sometimes you have to make sure you’re all paying attention to the same thing, but it’s not bad.”

One Day at a Time’s writers are in the process of rewriting the last few episodes of the new season, which has made working from home more feasible than if they had to write entire scripts from scratch. To help videoconferencing go smoother, they work in smaller groups, rotating writers for different scripts while other staffers work separately punching up jokes. They tried Skype at first, then moved to Zoom because it allows everyone to see the script on the screen as they work through it.

“If we had a choice, it is better being all together in the room,” Kellett said. “But we were able to get through two-thirds of a script, and that’s significant work, so I think we’re making the best of it. We’re making lemonade out of lemons here.”

The real downside, Kellett jokes, is missing out on catered lunches. “I have to go downstairs and make a salad, or I have to put meat between bread like a savage!” she said with a laugh. Royce, meanwhile, is eating two-day-old breakfast and feeling good about “helping the environment.”

Last week, before the writers began working remotely, One Day at a Time taped the sixth episode of its new season without a live audience, as many late-night shows and talk shows also did. Although the showrunners said the cast and crew missed the energy they normally draw from the audience, the actors rose to the occasion.

“Our actors are such pros,” Royce said. “It probably would have been more of a problem if it was season one, but they just know. They bring exactly the same energy that they would if the audience were there.”

The show is extending its scheduled hiatus by a week and is now tentatively slated to tape its seventh episode on March 31. But the showrunners know that plan can change at a moment’s notice.

“Every hour it’s a different story, so we have to be open for that,” Kellett said. “The safety of our cast and crew has to come first, so we’re just going to play it by ear and take it one day at a time.”

The fourth season of One Day at a Time will premiere on March 24 on Pop TV, its new network home after getting cancelled by Netflix last year.

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Inside a Writers’ Room That’s Social Distancing Itself