The pandemic is affecting the small screen, too — here's how shows with essential workers will tackle it
As TV shows get back into production, settling into a new normal amid increased health and safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, writers and producers have had to figure out whether upcoming story lines will reflect the challenges of the real world — and if so, how.
Though there are plenty of shows that won't need to address the pandemic head-on, many featuring essential workers will highlight the daily struggles of their characters' real-life counterparts in hospital rooms, firehouses, and police stations across the nation. And just as lives were lost to the tune of 200,000 and counting in the U.S., so will it come to the small screen.
Here's what can be expected from your favorites:
9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lonestar
When 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star return to our screens, the paramedics and firefighters will be responding to the global pandemic — in addition to their regularly scheduled emergencies. “When we come back, our characters will have been through — off-camera — basically everything our audience has been through," says executive producer Tim Minear. "As a first responder show, we will show our characters responding to calls using the same protocols real-life firefighters and paramedics would observe.” Rather than seeing the pandemic as a hindrance to the show’s storytelling capabilities, Minear is “using the events to help tell our stories in different ways.“ He teases that some characters will have quarantined together, which will start things off on a “slightly different and surprising footing.” Whether Buck (Oliver Stark) has mastered sourdough remains to be seen, but regardless of new quarantine skill sets, Minear says the goal is “to show our characters dealing with it, but still living their lives and doing their jobs. It doesn't take them over, so it doesn't take the narrative over. We're taking an aspirational approach.” —Ruth Kinane
Both shows are scheduled to return midseason.
When ABC’s Black-ish returns for season 7, viewers will see more of the workplace action shift from Dre’s (Anthony Anderson) job as an advertising exec to his wife Bow’s (Tracee Ellis Ross) job as a doctor. “We’re a show that takes place in the same reality that we all live in,” showrunner Courtney Lilly tells EW. “There would be no version of us not being able to address what’s going on.” Bow and other essential workers are “seeing a different reality than the rest of us are seeing,” Courtney adds, and joining her to discuss the reality of medical professionals — in a way only Black-ish can — are Dr. Laurie and Dr. Wen, played by Scrubs alum Judy Reyes, and ER alum Parminder Nagra, respectively. —Gerrad Hall
Season 7 of Black-ish premieres Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and Chicago P.D.
With Chicago Med, Chicago P.D, and Chicago Fire already back in production or pre-production, executive producer Dick Wolf confirms the pandemic will be shown affecting the emergency workers in the Windy City.
"As our Chicago shows return, of course, the COVID pandemic will be reflected,″ says Wolf. ″On Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., there will be references to the pandemic but they will be more subtle. For example, fewer civilians in the bullpen in Chicago Fire. But Chicago Med will address the pandemic head-on. There will be a COVID unit in the hospital, incoming patients will be tested by paramedics, and one character will be recovering from the disease. It will be part of daily life, and adjustments will be made." —Rosy Cordero
All three shows return Nov. 11 on NBC.
The Good Doctor
The Good Doctor showrunner David Shore considered not addressing the devastating COVID-19 pandemic in season 4 because he wasn’t sure if people would want to engage with something they’re already living through. Ultimately, he realized it would be “dishonest” for Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) and company to ignore it because this is a medical show after all. “Those stories deserve to be told,” he tells EW. “The first two episodes will take us through the months of the heart of the pandemic. We were hoping they would take us all the way to the end but alas.” —Chancellor Agard
The Good Doctor returns Nov. 2 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
When season 17 premieres, don’t expect Grey’s Anatomy to simply devote an episode — or even one of its incredible two-parters — to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think we all hoped when the world shut down that it would be for an episode or maybe a two-parter,” showrunner Krista Vernoff says. “But here we are six months later, still not allowed to hug our parents. So [the pandemic is] engrained into the season.” Specifically, season 17 will feature two timelines, one picking up right after the events of the finale and one taking place a couple weeks into COVID." —Samantha Highfill
Season 17 of Grey's Anatomy kicks off with a two-hour premiere on Nov. 12 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
″How do you give the pandemic its due and at the same time tell stories that are uplifting and that are a reclamation of our humanity?" According to New Amsterdam executive producer Peter Horton, that's the big challenge on the upcoming third season of the NBC medical drama, which prides itself on telling stories of hope amid dark times. And those haven't been needed perhaps more than now. Star Ryan Eggold knows firsthand — he revealed his own COVID-19 diagnosis last week on Instagram. When the show returns in early 2021, it will pick up at the ″end of a surge″ and the characters have ″been through hell.″
″Like soldiers coming back from war, we know each one is going to have a different capacity to deal with what they've seen, different reactions to it. Some are hit harder than others, and all of them in very specific ways,″ Norton explains. ″In an odd way, what this has given us is a pedal tone of ache to play underneath all of the bounciness of the show, all of the positivity of the show. From a dramatic standpoint is great. Sadly, it's true.″
And just like many medical workers across the country, one of the show's main characters will get COVID-19. ″But I'm not going to tell you who," Norton teases. —Gerrad Hall
Story lines from season 4 of The Resident will weave into many of the realities experienced by Americans throughout the ongoing pandemic and no one at Chastain Park Memorial Hospital is safe — personally or professionally.
″We are facing the greatest health care crisis of our generation and The Resident is tackling it head-on,″ co-showrunner Peter Elkoff explains. ″Our premiere deals with the early days of the outbreak, focusing on our hero doctors and nurses as COVID-19 hits them personally and professionally. As one of Chastain’s own is left fighting for their life, we will see heroism on one side and the corrosive effects of a broken financial system on healthcare on the other. This is a view into coronavirus that the public hasn't seen, with stories and details taken directly from the frontline experiences of one of our writers, Daniela Lamas, a critical care doctor in Boston. Lamas, who wrote about her experience battling COVID for the New York Times, co-authored our premiere with Eric I. Lu, also an M.D.″
He adds, ″COVID-19 has laid bare the inequities of our healthcare system, revealing issues that we will continue to grapple with throughout our season. The repercussions of this pandemic will profoundly impact our heroes and their relationships with each other and their own families. The premiere will pack an emotional wallop: there will be a heart-wrenching loss for our doctors, a long-awaited and joyful affirmation of love, and even a surprise hook-up between two of our most beloved characters.″
Paging doctors Mina Okafor (Shaunette Renée Wilson) and AJ Austin (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) for the inevitable hookup teaser at last? —RC
Fox has not yet announced a season premiere date for The Resident.
When Andy (Jaina Lee Ortiz) and the rest of the Station 19 team returns for season 4, they have a lot to unpack that extends even beyond the dramatic season 3 finale. The Shondaland drama exists in the same universe as Grey's Anatomy, so fans can expect the pandemic to enter their world too.
″Yes. Those shows are on the same timeline, they exist in the same universe, they're three blocks apart in Seattle,″ confirmed Vernoff. ″The pandemic exists on Station 19 as well, but it looks and feels different on Station 19 because it's not a hospital so the protocols are different and everyone doesn't have to be in masks and PPE all the time. It's a little different." —Rosy Cordero and Samantha Highfill
Station 19 returns Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.