Tonight, the current CBS series, All Rise, is returning to the air with a new episode -- also done remotely at home. The Writers Guild of America had an interesting article about how the episode all came about, and I thought I'd repost it here below.
(There was no credit line with the article, so alas I can't tell you who wrote it.)
"It's a unique chance for our All Rise family to band together—in our different homes, even cities—to tell a story about resilience, justice, and the power of community," said Spottiswood.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not only reflected in the upcoming episode’s narrative content, but it impacted how the episode was shot and produced as well. Inspired by current events and penned via a virtual writers’ room, the episode, entitled “Dancing at Los Angeles” (co-written by Spottiswood & Gregory Nelson), was filmed using Zoom, Webex, Facebook, and other social media and tech platforms. When production was cut short in mid-March, there was an unusually quick turnaround time from when the show’s writer-producers first conceived and pitched the idea, to the writing, filming, and air date. It will be the final original episode to air during the series’ first season run.
The All Rise writers’ room operated remotely via Zoom sessions to work on the episode: “We had a virtual writers’ room with a virtual white board, and we had virtual cards, which we shared, and we put up the collaborative function on Final Draft, and wrote and edited each other’s work together in real time on the same document while we were writing,” said Spottiswood. “Neither of us had ever worked that way before, but because Greg [Nelson] and I have worked together for a long time, not only on this season of television but on other shows we’ve done, we had a shorthand, which made the transition into the ‘virtual’ world a lot smoother than it would be for writers who may be just getting to know each other.”
Art imitates life, as the series' main characters manage their new daily routines at home. In the episode, Judge Benner (Marg Helgenberger) authorizes Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) to virtually preside over a trial, while other characters attempt to maintain relationships under quarantine. One character deals with the struggle of working as a food delivery driver to make ends meet. The episode’s plotline has real-life parallels, as some US courts are currently using Zoom to hear, try, and rule on cases while courtrooms are closed. The show's consulting producer, former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, was on hand to provide insight into how the justice system continues in LA, even during a pandemic.
Compelled by both the unprecedented circumstances and logistical limitations of shooting remotely, the series’ production team had to get creative: Using Webex to create their own private network to dial in to shoot specific scenes, virtual footage was shot in each of the series regulars' homes, adding VFX to create necessary backgrounds. In addition, a lone cinematographer operating solo captured exterior footage that reflects the desolate environment that currently exists on the streets of LA. Surprisingly, the show’s team shot 64 pages in six ten-hour days, a faster pace than most one-hour series productions.
While CBS has yet to determine if the freshman series will be renewed for a second season, the show’s creative team would continue to incorporate some of these themes and production techniques going forward: “From a storytelling standpoint, I think that COVID-19 is going to affect all of our lives certainly into next year, and it’s going to affect how everyone does their jobs, so it’s going to become a part of our storytelling,” said Spottiswood. “We’ll take our lead from how the justice system itself is dealing with it, and how our characters are dealing with it, so some aspects of this special episode are going to carry over [to next season].”
But are audiences ready to watch scripted fare that mirrors the grim daily reality many people look to TV to escape from?
“It was a huge consideration, as we talk about tone all the time,” explained Spottiswood. “All Rise is an aspirational show, a hopeful show, that takes very real dynamics in the justice system and sees them through a specific lens of Lola and our characters, so it was something we talked about conceptually, and something Greg and I talked about every day when we were writing. We tried to focus on what our characters were experiencing in that moment, and to be honest to those characters and their situations.
“Many of our characters are essential workers, so they have to find a way to do their jobs. The justice system does not close down. It slows down to a dangerous pace, and people are in jeopardy or vulnerable as a consequence, and their Constitutional rights are at stake, so we focused in on the story and the relationships between characters and their ability, or inability, to find a way to connect. The movement, for us as writers in this episode, is one from isolation to connection, and that was our guiding principal.”
Continues Spottiswood, “Here are some people who feel as isolated as all of us do during this crisis, and what story can we tell to find them just a simple moment of connection with another human being so they feel less alone. Our hope is the audience will identify with that. Whatever their specific circumstance is, whether living in fortune or misfortune, a story about finding moments of connection and a quest for justice in an unusual circumstance is something that we hope, and believe, will resonate with our audience.”