COVID-19

How will reality TV work now that reality feels unreal?

Kristin Schwab May 14, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Kris Jenner, left, her daughter Kim Kardashian and bocce ball instructor Jackie Savitt film an episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" in 2008. Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Caesars Palace
COVID-19

How will reality TV work now that reality feels unreal?

Kristin Schwab May 14, 2020
Kris Jenner, left, her daughter Kim Kardashian and bocce ball instructor Jackie Savitt film an episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" in 2008. Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Caesars Palace
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This was supposed to be a big week for TV, with networks rolling out fall lineups to start the advertising race. But announcements for renewals and cancellations have been slow as shows try to figure out how to pivot during COVID-19. And that includes the filming of unscripted shows. How do you make reality TV when reality feels so … unreal?

On the most recent episode of “American Idol,” contestant Louis Knight sang on his porch to a live audience — of one. His mom. The judges were there, too, but virtually, watching through little boxes that looked like a Zoom call.

“Survivor,” “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” are also producing shows remotely.

“It’s going to look a lot more DIY,” said Tom Nunan, a professor at the School of Theater, Film & Television at UCLA. “You’re not going to see your favorite celebrities or personalities lit or made up. But that may be part of the charm of this,” Nunan said.

But how long can this charm last? Shows that document peoples’ lives could clash with the harsh reality of the pandemic. Like Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules,” a social drama set in an LA restaurant. Or “The Amazing Race,” which is all about travel.

“I mean, the reality right now would be everybody in front of the camera with a mask on,” said Chris Sanders, the executive producer at Atlantic Television, a production company that works with NBC and The Discovery Channel.

Shows that could thrive are the kind that happen in a bubble. You know, where you throw a bunch of people together for a social experiment. Think “Big Brother” or Netflix’s “Love Is Blind.”

“You’ve basically gotta create an environment that’s going to be safe. So we probably will be seeing more of these kinds of closed-environment scenarios,” Sanders said.

And watching people whose biggest worries are a love triangle or being voted off an island could give audiences a break from actual reality.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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