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The Year in TV 2020: Delays, the ascent of streaming, and the Pandemmys

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Netflix(LOS ANGELES) — Like many other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic brought TV production to a halt in March, wreaking havoc with the complicated business of show scheduling. 

However, with millions of people locked down at home, 2020 is the year streaming came into its own.  Starting in March when the pandemic began, shows like Netflix’s Tiger King became more than must-see TV: it and other hit shows were a way to connect with others from whom we were socially distanced.

The pandemic threw a monkey wrench into networks’ plans for the new fall season, forcing delays in show launches or the outright cancellations of shows that had been renewed, like Stumptown on ABC, GLOW on Netflix, and Comedy Central’s Drunk History

David Boreanaz was directing a fall season episode of his CBS show SEAL Team back in March for the when he got news the show would be shut down. “It was very jarring for us,” he recalled to ABC Audio. “We had just finished we were shooting up on a mountaintop in Big Bear, a snow episode that I was directing, I had two days left and we came back that Thursday night and there was some rumor about it. And that’s when the NBA decided to stop its season.”

He added, “And we were all kind of like, ‘Oh, this is probably going to happen next week for us.’ We didn’t assume would happen so fast. And the next day we had planned to finish the two days that I had, and that was at the start of that Friday afterwards. And then by the end of the day, they just shut everything down.

With so many people locked onto their couches with nothing to do, streaming services saw their subscription numbers skyrocket.  So did the practice of mobile group-watching shows, and the social media buzz about hit series like Tiger KingThe Boys and The Queen’s Gambit.

In fact, a survey taken in the summer of 2020 revealed that one in five people credited Netflix with saving their relationships when all the one-on-one time with your significant other got to be too much. A poll in May suggested the average person who was locked down was watching streaming content on their TV eight hours a day.

As the year went on and the 2020 TV season finally began, art began to imitate life.  Talk shows resembled Zoom meetings, and some shows like Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest did remote-shot quarantine episodes.  Saturday Night Live went remote for a while with SNL at Home, using video sketches to fill the show before returning to Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, while the CBS drama All Rise created shows that used a Zoom-like interface to dispense law and order.

Productions also observed pandemic protocols.  Not only were the casts and crews wearing masks on the set, characters in most shows were seen wearing them — everyone from the cops on Law & Order: SVU to the attorneys on Bull and were seen rocking masks, and acting behind Plexiglas barriers. 

The new rules led to some interesting changes.  Producers on The Bold and the Beautiful used mannequins for some scenes, and also hired living stunt smoochers in the form of the real-life spouses of the show’s stars, with help from costuming and camera angles. 

Sometimes the precautions were not enough.  As cases started to spike in the fall and testing cast and crew members for COVID-19 became commonplace, so too did halts in production.  Shows from Days of Our Lives, to the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to the aforementioned Mythic Quest were halted over positive tests.  The latter show had two separate outbreaks of the virus, with a dozen production staffers infected.

While the awards show’s ratings ranked at an all-time low, September’s 72nd Annual Emmy Awards became an exercise in innovation. Jimmy Kimmel played to an empty Staples Center as the host of the ‘Pandemmys,’ with cardboard  cutouts standing in for the stars, except Jason Bateman, who appeared in person. All the nominees were outfitted with camera gear ahead of time at the homes or wherever they planned to be for the big night, should their name be called. 

In the case of the PopTV show Schitt’s Creek, it was called a lot: the series swept all the comedy categories, a first for any show, let alone the upstart TV network. It also broke a record for the most-awarded comedy in a single year, when you factor in the Creative Arts awards it won.

Other historic wins included Euphoria‘s Zendaya, who at age 24 became the youngest actress ever to snag the Best Actress in a Drama trophy, and the second Black actress to nab the award, following Viola Davis’ 2015 win for How to Get Away with Murder. In fact, the majority of the acting awards went to Black actors — 10 in total, including Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Uzo Aduba and Eddie Murphy. 

Although viewership numbers for streaming services are notoriously hard to pin down, here are the year’s most popular shows on various streaming services, based on data available

Netflix’s 2020 Top 10 according to Forbes:
1. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness 
2. Locke & Key
3. Space Force
4. Outer Banks 
5. Love Is Blind 
6. The Queen’s Gambit
7. Never Have I Ever 
8. Ratched 
9. The Circle 
10. Sweet Magnolias 

Top 5 streaming shows on Disney+, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Max, Peacock, and CBS All Access in 2020, according to The Observer.
1. The Mandalorian
2. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series
3. One Day at Disney Shorts
4. The World According to Jeff Goldblum
5. Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

Amazon Prime:
1. The Boys
2. Upload
3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
4. The Expanse
5. Hunters

1. Little Fires Everywhere
2. The Handmaid’s Tale
3. Marvel’s Runaways
4. The Great
5. Future Man

Apple TV+
1. Defending Jacob
2. The Morning Show
3. Ted Lasso
4. Servant
5. Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet

1. Raised by Wolves
2. Love Life
3. Search Party
4. Infinity Train
5. Close Enough

CBS All Access
1. Star Trek: Picard
2. Star Trek: Discovery
3. Tell Me a Story
4. The Good Fight
5. The Twilight Zone

1. Brave New World
2. Connecting…
3. The Amber Ruffin Show
4. Wilmore
5. Lost Speedways

By Stephen Iervolino
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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