Unscripted TV Adapts as Filming Resumes

By Artine Malyan  | 

As the television industry gradually moves back into production, many unknowns about the fall season are creating obstacles across genres, but unscripted series may have some distinct advantages. The Hollywood Reporter says of the genre commonly referred to as reality television, “Production value is on the rise, and unscripted producers are prepping for even bigger improvements in the months ahead.” The genre seems better suited to times of uncertainty than its big-budget counterparts, because the nature of many unscripted programs allows for a flexibility and ingenuity that mirrors our uncertain times.

Many unscripted shows that are based around a competition, like MTV’s The Challenge or ABC’s Bachelorette franchise, film an entire season in as little as 6-8 weeks. Because of this, homebound viewers have not missed out as much on these kinds of shows since the start of the pandemic.  “A lot of our stuff is always being made under constraints,” CAA alternative agent Rosanna Billow told The Hollywood Reporter. In much the same fashion that late-night talk shows during the 2007 Writers’ Strike filmed without production scripts, many series, like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, had their cast attempt to film themselves. Other shows, like American Idol, wrapped up the season remotely, with either live performances via webstream or teleconferenced reunions.

With production resuming, some of unscripted television’s production advantages during Covid-19 have become apparent. ABC’s The Bachelorette proceeded with filming in July with extra safety protocols in place and a quarantine bubble. The new season takes place within one resort, a shift from the series’ typical jet setting to far-flung, romantic destinations. CBS’s Big Brother already films in what amounts to a quarantine house. This show resumed production in June with added precautions and a new role on the call sheet: Covid Compliance Officer.

Here’s a look at where the networks stand with their unscripted properties as the Fall television season approaches:

  • NBC, anticipating possible delays in filming The Voice, its flagship singing competition program, secretly filmed an entire season of American Ninja Warrior in St. Louis this summer. The structure of the tournament was altered to comply with new safety standards. The production took place in one bubble and kept competitors socially distant. It appears the gamble paid off. The Voice has been delayed and American Ninja Warrior will take its place in the Fall lineup. America’s Got Talent has gotten creative, with outdoor episodes and online auditions, and is currently on the air.
  • CBS was forced to indefinitely delay the upcoming season of Survivor, due to difficulty filming overseas. It will be replaced in the Fall lineup by moving up The Amazing Race, which had been filmed earlier this year. The slot originally planned for The Amazing Race will be filled with a scripted show. As mentioned, Big Brother is currently airing, and will now extend into the fall, alongside the second season of unscripted dating show Love Island, which is currently filming inside a quarantine bubble at a Las Vegas resort.
  • ABC is following the same bubble-quarantine model as Love Island and filming The Bachelorette and Shark Tank at resorts, but Dancing With the Stars faces different challenges. Still, the show is eyeing a return as close to the original mid-September debut as planned. ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told Deadline that she is “blown away by the ingenuity and the care with which they are producing it.” Game show Card Sharks is also filming, with rigorous health precautions and no audience.
  • FOX’s MasterChef Junior benefits from no studio audience and The Masked Singer will have to make that same concession to return in September.
  • On cable, Food Network has kept programming rolling, as its popular competition shows film so far in advance that they’ve been able to air without interruption. But shows on MTV, like The Hills and Jersey Shore are on indefinite hiatus. Several of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise programs are filming.

While much of scripted television is planning its return, unscripted shows have been paving the way to safer practices and a return of television in the fall. The same flexible production constraints that have made the genre popular with networks and studios have been a boon to their productions. At least for the time being, game shows without audiences and competition shows set entirely in a bubble might look something like a new television normal.

The contents of this blog, and the posting and viewing of the information on this website, should not be construed as, and should not be relied upon for, legal or tax advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation.  By reposting this article, Extreme Reach is not providing tax or legal advice, further, the information presented may not reflect the most current developments.  No action should be taken in reliance on the information contained on this blog.  Please contact a lawyer or other trusted advisor to provide specific advice related to your circumstances.  Thank you.

Artine Malyan
Latest posts by Artine Malyan (see all)
Recommended Posts