A vestige of the COVID-19 television era returns for a new special on Friday -- and in the process, revives memories of a pandemic period in TV that now seems more remote with each passing day.
When I think of the pandemic now, I scratch my head (figuratively) and wonder: What the hell happened? What was all that, anyway?
The official span of the COVID-19 pandemic began on March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared that the worldwide outbreak of this new illness indeed represented a pandemic.
It ended only this past May 5, when WHO officially declared it to be over. For the vast majority of us, however, the pandemic and the fear and uncertainty that surrounded it since March 2020 had already long since passed.
The TV Blog went back in its personal archives to retrieve the pandemic past and found that I had forgotten much more than I remembered about how the TV biz adapted to this new reality.
One of the ways was to produce content on the cheap. One such example was “The Greatest @Home Videos” on CBS, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer. Seen in the photo above, the show’s interview subjects stayed home, and so did Cedric.
“The Greatest @Home Videos” may be the last vestigial example of a COVID-era show, and it lives on in a series of occasional specials. The fourth such special comes this week.
This unscripted series sprung from the explosion in home-based videos that were being made and posted on social media in ever-greater numbers as people quarantining at home sought diversions to keep them entertained and busy.
The lesson here is: While pandemics are only temporary, homemade videos of cute babies, curious dogs, and children doing backflips are eternal.
But this COVID curated clip show was only the tip of the iceberg. Remember “Tiger King” on Netflix? This oddball docuseries about people who maintain self-styled zoos was heralded as the first TV phenomenon of the home-confinement era’s first few weeks.
It was also said to have played a role in the growth of streaming in the COVID era. As binge-watching became a national pastime, subscriptions soared.
In the pandemic shutdown’s first weeks in 2020, the conventional wisdom held that TV would flourish from the shutdown.
By June 2020, however, the TV trade press was already reporting that the pandemic ratings spike was over.
Production on new scripted shows shut down completely, affecting TV platforms across the board. Before long, a whole series of COVID-era TV shows came and went.
One of the most curious of these was an NBC sitcom that was basically a Zoom conference. The show, titled “Connecting …,” was an effort to exploit the Zoom craze that spread across the world about as quickly as COVID. “Connecting …” was soon disconnected.
If memory serves, even “Saturday Night Live” tried to do shows in which its performers were seen on Zoom. The shows were terrible.
TruTV’s “Impractical Jokers” also did their shows on Zoom from their homes, but there was a big problem: There were no impractical jokes. Thus, there was no real show.
Perhaps the most prevalent form of COVID-era content had to do with entertainment and news personalities beaming it in from home.
Jimmy Fallon cavorted at home with his small children from a “Tonight Show” desk that they built.
Stephen Colbert did one “Late Show” from home seated in a bubble bath in which he was fully clothed. Late-night guests appeared from their homes as well.
So did all the hosts of TV talk shows from network morning shows to the evening talk shows on cable news, and their guests.
Some of these professionals worked hard to create a broadcast-worthy environment in which to place themselves on-camera from their homes.
But some did not. Many guest “experts” and windbag commentators on the cable talk shows took no such care.
Viewers were often shocked at what slobs these people were as they sat for interviews on national TV in front of unmade beds, open closet doors and piles of junk stacked in corners.
Less serious and a lot more fun were the conversations with whomever you were watching TV with about the qualities of the home décor of TV personalities.
Two local New York weatherman did their weather segments from what appeared to be their basements.
Another did his reports from his kitchen in the suburbs. On another station, a veteran correspondent did his stand-ups from the living room of his Manhattan apartment.
We who watched were quick to pass judgement. Is that the best he can do for a kitchen? It’s so dated! And the correspondent’s living room? When was it last decorated -- the 1980s?
The live Upfronts were cancelled, and these too ended up on Zoom. Live sports disappeared too.
In one of the era’s greatest examples of desperation, Fox re-aired the 2008 Super Bowl XLII in April 2020, just weeks after the start of the shutdown (the Giants beat the Patriots).
What a time it was. And yet, the question remains: What the hell happened?