Adapting fast: Making day-to-day TV in a pandemic
JOHN DOYLE >> TELEVISION CRITIC
PUBLISHED MAY 7, 2020
One day last week, during the daily phone-in press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called Colin D’Mello of CTV News, “Travis.” Possibly he was confusing D’Mello with Travis Dhanraj of Global News. Possibly Ford was simply tired. Possibly it was all quite funny, or it wasn’t. A bunch of journalists who cover Queen’s Park chortled and debated the issue on social media. Then they moved on.
Everything is different now. The job of doing television day-today changed and morphed as it did for so many occupations. Day-to-day TV, especially TV news, is a hectic, close-proximity business. When you watch TV now, from local weather forecasts to late-night chat shows, everything is done differently. Today, this column is about two TV people coping and adapting.
Camila Gonzalez had to adapt quickly. About now in the calendar, Gonzalez, who hosts TLN’s weekly Serie A Italian soccer coverage – with her own distinct, freewheeling style – would be packaging interviews and information about the climax to the Italian soccer season. She’s not doing that, obviously.
“It was a shock, since Serie A was the first league to be cancelled,” she says. “I saw fellow sports broadcasters still had the NBA, NHL to talk about, while everything had stopped for us. I went from shooting all over Canada and Italy for each episode, to having to set up a small studio in my living room. From having professional camera people, lights and face-to-face interaction with guests, to having just me.”
The “just me” has spent almost two months as part of TLN’s continuing COVID-19 coverage. With Italy’s circumstances catastrophic, the coverage is crucial to its audience. (TLN is free on most cable services through June.) Gonzalez says, “I went from talking about something that brought people excitement to talking about a virus that put our world on pause. I try to bring as much information as I can to our viewers, but always with a silver lining. From mental-health coping strategies, tips for quarantine, latest updates and interviews with notable personalities, we are trying to keep people informed with an optimistic twist.”
The situation has the added, fraught aspect of being about TLN itself. The channel invested in live weekly soccer from Italy just when most European soccer coverage has shifted to subscription-only online platforms. It looked like a smart, albeit expensive investment. For Gonzalez, who had built a following with her breezy style, it all comes back to the sport, but with some perspective.
“I miss Serie A most of all. Soccer in Italy is a cultural pillar. It’s passionate and fundamental. My everyday life revolves around those teams, the players, the fans. Knowing how hard they’ve been hit has been tough to process. I want nothing more than for the league to return, but I realize right now that this is bigger than sports.“
Over on CP24, which offers news coverage of the Greater Toronto Area all day, every day, the format is usually rigid – there’s an in-studio anchor and reporters appear live from locations all over the GTA. One night in April, viewers were startled to see Cristina Tenaglia doing the anchor from what appeared to be the parking lot outside.
She was actually perched on the accessibility ramp from the sidewalk outside the building. “As part of our social-distancing measures, some team members are designated to the studio only, others are designated to the field only. I’m part of the field group,” she explained to me. “I haven’t entered our studio in weeks. “We were short an anchor the evening of April 8th and I was the willing candidate to fill in, but there was this conundrum: I’m not permitted indoors. The team set up a makeshift anchor studio out on the pavement, complete with a teleprompter, lights, even a heater as it started to get chilly. Preshow, we went through a test run. I was advised to keep the comb and hairspray nearby for the wind. Much disinfecting of microphones and other studio equipment was part of our preparation. My cameraman was positioned more than six feet away,” she said.
“Frankly, it was an instant success. I explained on air, during a live chat with meteorologist Chris Potter [who does the weather reports from the backyard of his home in Barrie these days], why I was anchoring at dusk, jacket on, hair blowing in the breeze, outside the comfort of our studio. It was a heartfelt explanation to our viewers about what is, for everyone, a challenging time.”
Then Tenaglia, another distinctly animated, uncontrived figure on local TV here, went home to watch TV with her partner. I asked her what she views for pleasure. She thought her answer was pretty funny: “I don’t binge watch anything. I know I’m an oddball. I don’t even know what channel Netflix is. Big fan of Grey’s Anatomy but I jumped onto the show about 13 years into it. I love reality TV and the brainless, the better! 90 Day Fiancé: Before The 90 Days is my current compulsion. I’m so invested I read Reddit threads on the show. I try to figure out what these couples are really about.”
That’s both fair and funny. If you cover hard news all days, you’re entitled to incautious escapism. We all are. Often, we think TV is just slick, easy to do. It isn’t. Nothing is.
Finally, this column continues with a “stay-at-home-period daily-streaming pick.” Today’s pick is How To Make It in America (Crave/HBO). This low-key, ensemble drama-comedy aired for two seasons starting in 2010. Ahead of its time, its depiction of twenty-something New Yorkers is often and oddly filled with moments of grace.
At its core, it’s about two Brooklyn friends trying to make a buck without selling out. Ben (Bryan Greenberg) and Cam (Victor Rasuk) are best friends who, when we meet them, look to be heading in opposite directions. Ben’s living quietly since his breakup with Rachel (Lake Bell) and he’s taken a job as a salesman at Barneys. Cam, on the other hand, is all about the hustle, the scam. He and Ben had borrowed $5,000 and began a skateboard business with a renowned skater who has now gone off his meds and gone AWOL. The money was borrowed from Cam’s dangerous, scary cousin Rene (Luis Guzman), who just got out of prison and wants his money back.