During an Edinburgh TV Festival event streamed over YouTube, Lygo vividly described a nightmare scenario in which ITV can’t make tentpole shows like Love Island, its soaps run dry before the summer, and its schedules face countless months of disruption as TV gets back on its feet.
On the specifics, Lygo suggested there is a real danger that Love Island will not go into production in Mallorca this summer because of the pandemic. The ITV Studios show, which is a key revenue generator because of its loyal young audience, is due to go into pre-production in six weeks and is right at the top of his agenda.
He said there is a risk the show’s 200-strong crew won’t be able to travel to the Spanish island, and if they can, they may be quarantined. Lygo added that they explored making Love Island in Cornwall in the UK, but decided it would distort the DNA of the show, in which singletons couple up under the Mediterranean sun.
Moreover, he said the program may not strike the right tone for the times we’re living in. “What signal might it be sending out if we’re doing a show where everybody’s crammed together slathering over each other and the rest of the world can’t go near anyone in the park,” he said. “I’m a bit uneasy about that.”
There was better news on another entertainment show: The Masked Singer. ITV head of entertainment Katie Rawcliffe said the show is currently casting in the UK and will go into production later this year “with or without an audience.” Lygo added that observing social distancing measures is “more manageable for us in an enclosed guarded space” like The Masked Singer studio, as opposed to on big live productions like the Britain’s Got Talent finals, which have been delayed indefinitely. The Masked Singer is set to return next January.
Lygo was also realistic about the challenges of getting ITV’s soaps back into production, hinting that there is a very real danger that the broadcaster will run out of episodes in the coming weeks. ITV is stocked with Emmerdale episodes until May, while Coronation Street can run until June after the broadcaster rationed the dramas out over a longer period of time. Getting them back into production is occupying a lot of Lygo’s thinking right now.
“They are working really hard now as to how — if and when restrictions are lifted a bit — we make the soaps in a safe way. So we’re looking at that because ITV without soaps is barely ITV. So they’re terribly important to get back up and running,” Lygo said.
He added that there will be more two-handers to avoid scenes with large numbers of people, while camera trickery is also being explored to make actors look closer together — a technique that is currently being used on Australian soap Neighbours. ITV is considering testing cast and crew for coronavirus to allow for closer interaction, while older or more vulnerable members of the teams will be protected for longer. “We won’t go back into shooting until we’re convinced it’s safe,” he said, adding jokingly: “I don’t want Ken Barlow to get sick on my watch.”
The director of television said drama is “the most difficult” of the genres on which to get cameras rolling again, and even when it is safe to shoot, he pointed out that actors will be double-booked on projects they failed to complete before the pandemic swept through the industry. He used Vicky McClure as an example: The actress has not wrapped Line Of Duty for the BBC, so will need to finish that shoot before she can move on to ITV drama Trigger Point. “The whole thing has to go on hold. You then have to wait for them to come back and then other people aren’t ready. So I can see problems coming down the track,” Lygo said.
As a result of the production hiatus and the cancelation of big sporting events, such as Euro 2020, Lygo said “there’s going to be a lot of repeats” in the ITV schedule over the coming months. ITV is working to plug some gaps in the short-term and it thinks that factual entertainment filmed in the UK could be one way to achieve this. To this end, head of factual entertainment Sue Murphy said she is developing a travel show with Joanna Lumley, in which the actress will journey around Britain.
Lygo said ITV must up its game amid competition from streamers including Netflix and Amazon. “Not having the strongest of summer schedules now because we don’t have the sport, and running a lot of repeats, are people going to get out of the habit [of watching traditional TV]?” he asked. “We’ll just have to be better at what we do because audiences now are technologically more adept and there is more choice than there has ever been at any time in broadcasting history.”
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