For many TV series, the start of the holiday production hiatus in mid-December coincided with the beginning of the latest Covid surge, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. A handful of series, including CBS’ Ghosts, stopped filming a few days earlier as a result of positive tests in the central Zone A, which includes the cast and those in direct interaction with them.
Now, as many series are slated to return to production this week, studios face an unprecedented wave of infections, which is sweeping the country, with New York and Los Angeles, the main production hubs in the U.S., among the worst hit, setting new all-time records every day.
A potential delay in return to the sets is being discussed by the major studios, according to sources. I hear restart of production on a number of series, originally scheduled for this week, has been pushed to next week. In some cases, it is done on a show-by-show basis with multiple major studios looking to keep most — if not all — of their shows on schedule.
Additional safety precautions and tightening testing protocols in the different zones on set are being considered as breakthrough Covid cases involving fully vaccinated people are skyrocketing.
The current number of infections in the U.S. dwarfs the amount of positive cases during the winter Covid wave the same time last year, which pushed the return to production across the board. And while the illness associated with Omicron is believed to be milder compared to the deadlier Delta variant, its extreme level of spread is putting a strain on the health system.
But unlike last January when the general population didn’t have access to vaccines yet, now vaccines — including boosters — are readily available, which likely is factoring into studios’ rational for trying to proceed with production as planned.
The standard holiday hiatus, per the unions’ collective bargaining agreements, is two weeks. It was extended to three weeks last year for Covid, and studios have an option to tack on an extra week, retaining the crew through an unpaid leave.
With the current Omicron surge projected to peak in mid-to-late-January, a delay for up to a week won’t be enough to avoid it altogether so, while planning for additional safeguards, studios also are preparing for inevitable production shutdowns triggered by positive Covid tests in the coming weeks. With tight delivery schedules, especially on broadcast series that film close to air, they don’t have a lot of room to maneuver.