How TV Writers Are Portraying Covid-19

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Most scripted content currently on TV was created before the covid-19 pandemic began. But as we run out of material and need to create more, TV writers are faced with a big question: should they talk about the pandemic?

It’s clear that we’ll need to produce episodes of TV with new guidelines designed to keep casts and crew members safe. But do we want to hear our favorite characters put on facemasks and talk about the virus, or would we rather pretend it doesn’t exist?

The CBS series All Rise was one of the first shows to tackle the pandemic within the world of the show, airing a stay-at-home episode with characters on video screens.

The All Rise episode, “Dancing at Los Angeles,” was more of a “regular” episode than the Parks & Recreation reunion special. The latter faced the tough challenge of constructing an episodic storyline while also doing one-time-only fan service for a show that’s reached a kind of beloved cult status.

Many TV writers are concerned that talking about the pandemic will be depressing during a time when viewers want escapism. But would ignoring it be even worse?

“I was like, ‘COVID’s going to be this weird story that happened in the spring,'” says J.J. Philbin, the creator of ABC comedy Single Parents. She originally had no plans to incorporate covid-19 into the show – but now she feels differently.

She thought “it would be jarring to depict a universe where people are in face masks and Playtex gloves standing 6 feet apart from each other,” but “now it almost feels disingenuous not to.”

“We’re still very much in the middle of this,” says Kenya Barris, the creator of Grownish. He worries that a show that portrays a college experience without covid or online classes might look “tone deaf.” He says that writers may look back on their scripts and think, “This doesn’t match the world we’re in anymore.”

Greg Berlanti, the super-producer behind shows like Supergirl and You, thinks that the solution is somewhere between escapism and reality.

“There’s always an escapist element to entertainment, but at the same time the key to these kinds of shows is to find our own narrative way to deal with what the world is dealing with and for the audience to find some sense of connection in that,” he says.

Would you rather watch shows that acknowledge covid-19 or ignore it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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