How TV Networks Are Combating COVID-19 Production Setbacks This Fall

Leigh Blickley
·Senior Entertainment Reporter, HuffPost
·7 min read
Clockwise from left: "One Day At a Time," "L.A.'s Finest," "Tell Me A Story," "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Manhunt: Deadly Games." (Photo: Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Spectrum Originals/Netflix/CBS)
Clockwise from left: "One Day At a Time," "L.A.'s Finest," "Tell Me A Story," "Star Trek: Discovery" and "Manhunt: Deadly Games." (Photo: Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Spectrum Originals/Netflix/CBS)

When “L.A.’s Finest” was dropped by NBC ahead of the 2018-19 season, it came as a shock. The “Bad Boys” offshoot featured two women of color ― Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba ― leading a cop drama, something that was desperately missing from broadcast TV. And with movie stars as headliners, the Sony Pictures TV project, whose pilot reportedly cost around $12 million, had been a shoo-in for a primetime spot.

But Sony refused to give up on the show, which eventually became the flagship series for original content on Spectrum, a channel available exclusively to subscribers of cable provider Spectrum on-demand and ad-free.

“L.A.’s Finest” arrived in May 2019 and earned 3 million viewers for its first 13 episodes. Shortly after, it was greenlighted for Season 2, which debuted on Spectrum earlier this month.

“We were originally an NBC pilot, but we got to rework the show for the Spectrum audience and live in a little more of a streaming world, which opened up the possibilities for stories for us to tell beyond the standard network cop procedural,” creator Brandon Margolis told HuffPost during an interview this month.

For Margolis and co-creator Brandon Sonnier, that switch in tone comes very much in handy now as, amid coronavirus shutdowns and production delays, “L.A.’s Finest” has been picked up by Fox as a way to fill some Fall 2020 schedule space. The female-led cop drama has the chance to grab a new network audience when it airs Monday nights ahead of the Kim Cattrall-fronted pilot series “Filthy Rich.”

Interestingly enough, this isn’t a one-off thing. A few of the major networks have acquired pre-released series as a way to expand their lineups. CBS is airing the fourth season of the Netflix-turned-Pop series “One Day at a Time,” as well as Spectrum’s anthology series “Manhunt: Deadly Games” and Season 1 of CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Discovery.” And The CW picked up CBS All Access’ psychological thriller “Tell Me a Story” and DC Universe’s “Swamp Thing.”

Most of these shows have enough episodes banked to hold over at-home audiences while productions kick back into gear and new content rolls out.

“I certainly would imagine that having two seasons’ worth of episodes already produced, that can fill up an entire season’s worth of airtime, was a big upswing for Fox in their decision to pick [‘L.A.‘s Finest’] up,” Margolis said, with Sonnier noting how ecstatic they are that unaware viewers will now get to see their work.

“The Spectrum subscriber base came through for us and gave us the kind of viewership and numbers that said this could be successful on a larger platform with more eyeballs,” Sonnier said. “It’s so gratifying to now put it out there and let people experience the show who haven’t had the opportunity to do that.”

(Left to right) Pam Veasey, Jessica Alba, Brandon Sonnier, Gabrielle Union, Brandon Margolis, and Anton Cropper attend Spectrum Originals and Sony Pictures Television Premiere Party for "L.A.'s Finest" at Sunset Tower on May 10, 2019. (Photo: Rich Polk via Getty Images)
(Left to right) Pam Veasey, Jessica Alba, Brandon Sonnier, Gabrielle Union, Brandon Margolis, and Anton Cropper attend Spectrum Originals and Sony Pictures Television Premiere Party for "L.A.'s Finest" at Sunset Tower on May 10, 2019. (Photo: Rich Polk via Getty Images)

Fellow picked-up series “One Day at a Time” has faced its fair share of ups and downs, as well. The critically acclaimed reboot of the classic Norman Lear sitcom ― which follows a Latino family helmed by single mom and veteran Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) ― was canceled by Netflix in 2019 after three seasons. Then, thankfully, it was saved by Viacom’s “Schitt’s Creek” network Pop TV amid outcry from fans. Now, it will air its latest six episodes on CBS beginning Oct. 5 as part of Viacom’s overall purchase of the series. (Viacom owns both Pop TV and CBS).

“It’s a great opportunity,” co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett told HuffPost. “I think it’s very smart for [networks] to go ahead and say, ‘You know what? Let’s partner and let’s give some of these shows a shot at more eyeballs.’ It’s kind of making lemonade out of lemons and we are the bearers of the benefits of that. We just hope that that means that it’ll give us a shot at continuing to make the show.”

Both “One Day at a Time” and “L.A.’s Finest” have yet to be renewed by their primary networks, so a prime-time jolt to viewership might be the key to future seasons. If all goes well enough, Kellett, Margolis and Sonnier could even see the potential of CBS and Fox personally renewing their series.

“Hopefully, we will do well on CBS and they will pick us up, and we can start our writers’ room back up and get back to it so that we can shoot in the new year,” Kellett, who produces “One Day at a Time” with co-creator Mike Royce, said.

Margolis and Sonnier have similar aspirations.

“You’re always hopeful that your show gets to life beyond the one episode you produce if you get to do a pilot or the one half-season if you get to a 13 order,” Sonnier said. “And here we are sitting on two seasons ready to roll out and we are absolutely hopeful that there will be the possibility of telling the story for as long as people are willing to give it a shot and and experience it with us.”

(Left to right) Justina Machado, Isabella Gomez, Gloria Calderon Kellett and Todd Grinnell attend the Netflix 2020 Golden Globes After Party on January 5, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Emma McIntyre via Getty Images)
(Left to right) Justina Machado, Isabella Gomez, Gloria Calderon Kellett and Todd Grinnell attend the Netflix 2020 Golden Globes After Party on January 5, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Emma McIntyre via Getty Images)

The pressure is on in other ways, as well, as both series feature characters and storylines that are underrepresented on network television. Multi-camera comedy “One Day at a Time” follows a Cuban-American family as they grapple with racism, immigration laws, LGBTQ issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and veteran care. According to Kellett, it is the only Latino family show that will be on broadcast this fall. And “L.A.’s Finest” takes the police procedural and flips it on its head with two women who are just as skilled and complicated as any of their male counterparts.

“As a white man who is writing a show about two women of color, authenticity to these characters is incredibly important to myself and to my partner Brandon,” Margolis said. “We need people who can represent different points of view than what we bring. If we want that show to really feel authentic and be real it starts with our leads. They’re very thoughtful about the things that their characters would say and do. And we have a great dynamic with them where they trust us to tell compelling stories and we trust them to bring the grounded authenticity to the character. It allows us to write these characters in an honest way and know that everybody’s intention is to make the most authentic experience possible.”

Actors Alba and Union have spoken about their collaboration with Margolis and Sonnier, and the diverse crew that brings dynamic storylines to life. Union, however, does recognize that cop shows need to have “more accurate portrayals between the police and marginalized communities.”

“We all have a lot of work to do if we’re going to tell truthful stories because, as it is right now, our show is pure fantasy, it’s pure escapism,” she told Meghan McCain on “The View” earlier this month. “It is not rooted in the reality that we’re seeing every day on the news.”

For Kellett, she hopes “One Day at a Time” can act as a microcosm for what’s happening in the country right now.

“We’re doing the work of trying to set straight the community out there in terms of knowing who we are as as Latino Americans in this country,” Kellett said. “This is also a family that has three different generations ― a young liberal (Isabella Gomez), a moderate of middle age (Machado) and a very traditional, conservative grandmother (Rita Moreno) ― all living under one roof, all having difficult conversations, but doing so in a loving manner and trying to find ways to coexist peacefully. So we’re hoping that it can be something that provides a little bit of laughter and joy to America.”

If audiences flock toward network reruns of these picked-up series this fall, perhaps we’ll get to see some more honest storytelling in 2021.

CORRECTION: This article previously misstated that “L.A.’s Finest” follows “Filthy Rich”; it airs before “Filthy Rich.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.