Impossible for every show to swing into production this autumn

Ben Frow was typically forthright on Radio 4’s Media Show this week. Talking up Channel 5’s credentials, he suggested its “scrappy” mentality means it is well placed to battle through the coronavirus crisis.

Ben frow grey 03 headshot

But he also acknowledged a key dilemma facing broadcasters at present – how much Covid content will viewers accept? He put it slightly more delicately, saying “I’m concerned about what TV will look like in six months – I don’t want all of our shows to feel as if they were filmed during a crisis.”

At the moment there is something of a novelty about seeing The One Show presenters teetering on opposite ends of the sofa, or entertainment shows shot in the homes of isolated talent – but it’s not going to last long.

I’m perfectly happy chatting to my colleagues via Microsoft Teams, but I’m not sure I want the same experience when I turn off my laptop and turn on my telly – certainly not across the board.

The result is likely to be a balancing act, as broadcasters pursue the (admittedly small) range of options open to them.

That could include premium primetime repeats that potentially dovetail with broader on-demand box-sets; some astute finished tape acquisitions from around the world; and a thin smattering of the pipeline of content delivered prior to all this madness, alongside a reasonable level of shows that have been filmed under lockdown conditions.

Even then, the emphasis has to be on finding increasingly creative solutions to deliver shows with a different look and feel.

The painstaking archive curation of Asif Kapadia’s outstanding features Amy and Senna feels a long way from the quick turnaround content being delivered at present, but I wonder if there are TV equivalents being crafted right now, seamlessly shaping old footage into compelling new narratives.

Let’s hope so, as I’m becoming increasingly nervous about the period immediately after the restrictions on movement are ended. “That’s one for September”, seems to be the commonest refrain at present, as though every single show put on ice, or project itching to get started is going to have capacity to swing into action simultaneously.

The availability of on-screen talent, production crew, studios and locations and just about every other service required for filming is going to be severely tested, in the autumn as log-jam replaces lockdown.

Those problems are likely to be severe even if they only apply initially to docs, popular factual and fact ent, which are the genres that will re-emerge most quickly.

Chris curtis

Broadcasters may be more cautious about getting cracking again on drama, where the size of the crew runs into the hundreds and huge support resource is required, and on shiny floor extravaganzas, with sizeable studio audiences. With so much medical uncertainty and talk of a second wave of coronavirus, normal service may not be resumed for quite some time.

Plenty of ingenuity will be required in the interim.

  • Chris Curtis is editor in chief of Broadcast