With upfronts scrapped and production shutdowns ongoing, networks are looking to existing fare, animation and non-scripted programming to fill their schedules.
We've already seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to affect television, with at-home versions of late-night talk shows, singing competitions, "SNL" and even a few scripted shows sprinkled throughout this spring schedule.
Many traditional network shows saw their productions halted as stay-at-home orders became the norm, leading to some creative editing, shortened seasons and unexpected cliffhangers.
As what would have been the upfronts kicks off in a virtual format, advertisers, investors and viewers are eager to see how the network broadcasts can present a fall schedule with so much uncertainty as to when anyone in Hollywood might be able to return to set.
As it turns out, both Fox and The CW have come up with some novel ways to keep their airwaves filled with fresh material as the fall unfolds, depending on how you look at it. And they're looking optimistically toward early 2021 for most of their live-action scripted fare.
Fox has the benefit of a pretty healthy animation lineup on Sunday nights, as animation and voice-over work can both be done from home. It would be far harder to film a convincing season of "9-1-1" with everyone phoning it in (literally).
That said, Fox's schedule isn't foolproof, as it is hugely contingent on the NFL managing to put together its season in time, and "The Masked Singer" being able to pull off production on a fourth season.
While it might be awkward, there is an outside chance the production could mimic what "The Voice" and "American Idol" are doing with an at-home take on the premise, though that would kill a lot of its charm.
Maybe the solution is to just sequester the cast, crew and secret celebs together for however long it takes to film a season (honestly, it looks like they could knock it out in a week or two).
Helping to flesh out the schedule, Fox has a couple of shows already in the can (they were originally slated to premiere this spring) in "NeXt" and "Filthy Rich."
On Mondays, the network is paring "NeXt" with a network broadcast for the Spectrum original series "L.A.'s Finest," starring Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. Tuesdays sees the return of "Cosmos: Possible Worlds" with the aforementioned "Filthy Rich."
"Masked Singer" and "MasterChef Junior" take over Wednesdays, while the NFL, the WWE and sports in general take us through the weekend. That leaves Sunday, and it's full-on Animation Domination.
In other words, there is not a single new or returning live-action scripted series slated for the fall at this time. The network has promised 2021 returns for "9-1-1," "9-1-1: Lone Star," and "Duncanville," alongside new programming (including Mayim Bialik's "Miranda" adaptation, "Call Me Kat"). The fates of their other existing shows were not revealed.
The CW, which already renewed pretty much its entire lineup, is getting similarly creative with their fall schedule, leaning even heavier on acquiring existing programming, as well as their relationship with both CBS and Warner Bros.
Just as CBS All Access was pulling the plug on a third season for its "Tell Me a Story" anthology series, The CW had picked up the first two seasons for air. The network also nabbed the single-season "Swamp Thing" series from DC Universe, which pairs nicely with its Arrowverse lineup.
Add two seasons of the Canadian series "Coroner" and UK comedy "Dead Pixels" and it's clear that The CW is looking anywhere and everywhere for fresh content. With no notable reality or animated series under its belt, the network is particularly vulnerable to ongoing production shutdowns.
The interesting question to follow will be whether the broadcast of shows like "Swamp Thing" or "Tell Me a Story" will have any impact on its future.
Controversially canceled, fans have been clamoring for a return of DC's muck monster for awhile now, and CBS All Access just pulled the plug on "Story." Could it be plugged back in if it does well on The CW, or maybe just jump ship to its new home with new episodes?
The other networks are expected to make announcements of some sort about their fall futures, though it's unclear if they'll lay out full fall schedules as Fox did, or keep things more fluid and vague as The CW did in announcing those pickups with no premiere dates tied to any of them.
One thing's for certain, television is heading into uncharted territory, and depending on how long these shutdowns last, it could get very interesting seeing what they do and how they adjust to a changing global landscape.
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