How we could have a fall TV season

This is prime time for shooting new fall TV. Yet, many are wondering if it’s even possible to create new TV shows. Consider that even small TV productions employ hundreds of people and generally involve a lot of things in close proximity. It seems like an incredible hurdle to jump over at a time when we are more concerned than ever with social distance.

Still, I think that a new TV season is possible, and I think it’s even likely. Things may change somewhat, but it won’t stop a lot of work from being done.

Filmed in front of a live studio audience

Well obviously you’re not going to hear those words a lot in the coming months. Barring some sort of miracle, I don’t expect television studios to be opening up their doors to crowds of people anytime soon.

This will have some effect on game shows which typically shoot with a live audience to help the contestants feel more energetic. But, in most cases there’s really nothing about a specific game show that really requires a large audience. I can think of Let’s Make A Deal as a show that really requires a group of people, but I can also see some ways around that. Most game shows will just have to shoot in solitude, when they can shoot at all.

California might lose out

A generation or so ago, Southern California was home to an awful lot of television production. It still is, but you’ve also seen a lot of production move to other places because of tax credits. I suspect that states which are safe enough to welcome production crews are already reaching out to studios as we speak.

Canada, especially western Canada, has become a hotspot for TV production in the last several years. It’s a lot less expensive to shoot there for various reasons. While there is a travel ban in place from the US to Canada as I write this, a lot of those production crews are already there. The writers, actors, and that sort would have to travel there but there is an established process that would allow them to do so. It involves quarantining and testing, but it’s there.

Changes in production values

One thing we’ve all become very aware of lately is the power of our own electronics. You’re seeing a lot of very professional-looking results on major television shows from people using their phones and inexpensive lights and microphones. I suspect you’ll keep seeing those.

I think the biggest change you’ll notice is lighting and sound. Traditionally, TV shows use large microphones just out of the camera’s view. This requires an operator to follow people around with microphones. I expect that we’ll see small wireless mike packs hidden on actors, perhaps in the hair (as we saw recently in Hamilton) or on busy patterned clothing or jewelry.

Even outdoor programs use lights to eliminate harsh shadows. I understand this but maybe the shows would still be pretty good in natural light. Today’s cameras are a lot more sensitive and can pick up good details in shadows too.

Emphasis on editing

While it’s going to be hard to find a job in lights, sound, or craft service (food supply) in the coming months, the editors are emerging as the heroes of TV production. Editors can clean up problems on set, adjust video on the fly, and make it look like people are much closer than they are. It’s not easy, but it’s far more possible than it was even a decade ago.

Most of all, innovation

This is the biggest challenge to TV production in a generation. Back in 2007, the Writers’ Guild of America went on strike. A lot of good scripted shows suffered, but television didn’t die. It adapted. Reality TV became more common, seasons became shorter, and you started to see people producing for YouTube and other media where unions don’t apply.

I think that today, TV studios will adapt and they’ll keep producing TV that entertains us and makes us think. It’s going to look different for a little while, but it’s still going to be great.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.