In just one week, the coronavirus outbreak swept through the TV business, from a cause for concern last Monday to canceling wrap parties midweek to shutting down virtually every series and pilots by Friday. Because of the timing — mid-March, all broadcast series still in production were close to wrapping their seasons. The shutdowns came so quickly as the situation was deteriorating rapidly that most shows suspended filming mid-episode.
For many series, including all or almost all CBS, NBC and the CW shows and some ABC and Fox ones, a decision was made right away that this was it for the current seasons, and the remaining 1-2 episodes won’t be filmed this spring. As the COVID-19 outbreak situation remains uncertain and unpredictable, holding onto the crews for weeks in hope to film one more episode is hard to justify financially, and restarting production involves a big expense too.
The long list of the series that stopped short of filming the last episode)s) of the season includes NBC’s Superstore, whose finale was supposed to be farewell episode of star America Ferrera. It also includes CBS’ NCIS franchise, Bull, FBI, SEAL Team, S.W.A.T., Young Sheldon, Bob Hearts Abishola and The Neighborhood, NBC’s Chicago franchise, Law & Order: SVU and New Amsterdam, the CW’s The Flash, Supergirl, Batwoman, Riverdale, Dynasty and Nancy Drew, ABC’s The Goldbergs, Schooled and American Housewife and Fox’s Last Man Standing.
There are no firm plans in place for those series’ outstanding episodes. The ideas I have heard being tossed around range from those episodes getting produced as filming starts for next season, to the scripts being incorporated into next season’s stories, to those scripts being discarded. (Ferrera has indicated that she is willing to wrap her storyline in the fall.) There also is no decision yet whether those leftover episodes would be tucked onto the season orders for next season, supersizing them from 22 to 24 episodes, for instance, or they will be just lost.
There are a handful of series hoping against hope to go back and finish their orders, like ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, which has four more episodes to shoot, NBC’s The Blacklist, which has three and a half, and Fox’s The Resident, with the odds of that happening diminishing every day. But no need to shoot the remaining episodes is as urgent as that for Fox’s Empire and the CW’s Supernatural, which are 1.5-2 episodes short on their final seasons.
The final stretch of episodes for both shows are already airing, so there is no option to postpone the final seasons. There is no possibility to add the episodes to next season because there is no next season. Even if the networks stagger existing episodes to wait for the finales to be made, they are expected to run out of originals before it would be safe to return to production on the last installments.
It appears inevitable that the two shows’ final season runs will be disrupted, and the last two episodes will have to air as events, in line with CSI’s two-hour series finale on CBS, which aired in September 2015, months after the last regular episode of the crime drama the previous season. If production allows it, summer finale airings for Empire and Supernatural also are an option to give fans resolution sooner.
Two other long-running series ending this spring, ABC’s Modern Family and CBS’ Hawaii Five-0, do not face similar predicament as both had already wrapped production when the coronavirus crisis hit. And The 100, which had only a day or two left of filming left on its series finale, was able to wrap it Saturday. Creator/executive producer Jason Rothenberg tweeted the news.
Season finales are traditionally built as events, featuring the culmination of lengthy story arcs and often major cliffhangers. This year, many of the broadcast series will end their seasons abruptly, with little fanfare.
Besides depriving the broadcast networks of much needed event programming, the shorter seasons also are creating scheduling challenges, leaving them with holes to fill. The CW was the first network to make a move to mitigate the impact, replacing an upcoming original of The Flash with a repeat to stagger the remaining Flash episodes. NBC is airing one new episodes of The Blacklist this Friday instead of two. Others will likely employ a similar strategy.
While the focus has been on the episodes that have not been filmed, there are a number of shot episodes of broadcast series currently going through post-production that may also be affected. For now, editing is going on, with producers, who normally are in the editing bays, providing input to editors remotely via Skype/FaceTime or written notes.
But there is concern that post-production houses could close down. That would leave a number of filmed and edited episodes without broadcast-standard audio mixing and color correction. The options in that case would be for the networks to lower their broadcast standards or face even shorter seasons.