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Social distancing in the TV world

As countries start to relax the social distancing rules and open for business, the question remains:  When will Hollywood follow and resume production of our TV shows?

My question is more specific: What will those productions look like in a social distancing world?

At my job, I have limited co-workers on-site and we still talk to each other from across the room.  When we pass in the hallway, people hug the walls and even turn their backs on each other for safety.  The click of my high-heel shoes is now used by others as an early warning system that I’m coming around the corner.

But TV and movie sets are full of bodies working long hours in close quarters.  They have meals catered and left out for people to graze.  Technicians work in tight areas to set lights and microphones.  Make-up artists are constantly doing touch ups.  Studio audiences are crammed into their seats.

So production will certainly have to change behind the scenes.  The more obvious adjustments, however, will be in front of the camera.

What many don’t realize is that empty space tends to expand on camera.  So on-set, the furniture is smaller.  Rooms are more cramped.  And actors perform with much less personal space than in real life.  It makes the scene more intimate and audience more connected.

This trend was more obvious when daytime soap operas were popular.  Those characters often conversed with their faces six to twelve inches apart.  When was the last time you yelled at someone standing so close you could taste what they had for lunch?

Of course, that cannot happen anymore.  But will they maintain the six foot minimum?  Will the characters turn their backs “for safety” as others walk by?  How will they interact?

And “let’s talk about sex, baby.”  It’s a huge part of television.  So how will they shoot “frisky time” safely?  Will the actors have to don full PPE to make whoopee?  “No glove, no love” will certainly take on a whole new meaning.

Remember Ross and Rachel’s first kiss on Friends?  Even 25 years later, it tops many “Most Romantic” lists.  But today, Rachel might not open all those locks on the door of Central Perk to let Ross in.  Forget the historic moment.  He’d be safer on the other side.

No, next season’s dramas may involve a 50’s era notion of romance: long lingering looks through a video screen, knowing glances across a room, and then the camera pans away as sex is left to the imagination. Personally, I like it.

Some shows were pretty ingenious in crafting their final episodes this past spring.  All Rise did a video chat episode - make-up, lighting, and camera work done by the actors themselves.  The Blacklist was part video, part graphic novel.  So I can’t wait to see how writers acknowledge people’s interactions in a COVID world.

Then again, by fall they might just ignore the new social norms altogether.  After all, parts of North America are already acting as though it never happened.