How Does Latin America’s Biggest Broadcaster Tackle COVID-19 in its Banner Series?

Few Brazilian series have won such plaudits abroad as high-end medical procedural ”Under Pressure,” which was selected for the Toronto Festival, swept French Fipa TV festival awards, and is hailed as a signature series in the drive by Globo, Latin America’s biggest media company, into non-escapist, international standard social issue series.

As Brazil has become one of he three countries with the most COVID-19 infections in the world, Globo aired an “Under Pressure” two-episode special that tackles head on the experience of the medical staff during its hard times.

The series, which has already been licensed in more than 65 countries, managed to produce both episodes in just four months between the first writers’ meeting and the episodes airing. In between, the death toll of the country has skyrocketed from 36,000 to over 150,000.

Co-produced by Globo and Conpiraçao, “Under Pressure – COVID Special” was written by Lucas Paraizo and directed by Andrucha Waddington.

“We have a tradition of keeping the network in touch with reality as close as possible,” said Amauri Soares, TV Globo channel director. “COVID-19 is affecting everybody’s life. How can we not have it in our TV series? How can we not tell a story about this? It’s a historical event and we didn’t miss the opportunity to reflect that reality on our channel.” Variety spoke with Paraizo and Waddington about a series which cannot be accused of sidestepping its audience’s suffering.

Could you talk about the safety measures taken for the shoot?

Waddington: We had a series of meetings to establish the protocol, led by Globo and with input from Conspiraçao. There were periodic tests to be sure that everyone was healthy and to detect if anyone was asymptomatic. There was the concern about social distancing, how the protagonists, the medical staff, were always wearing masks, head shields, and the “COVID patients” were always three meters from one other. There was a red zone on set which a minimum number of people entered who were in direct contact with the actors, a yellow zone supported those entering the red zone and a blue zone outside that where everything was sanitized before going into the others.

What drove you to turn around this COVID-19 related content so quickly?

Waddington: There is a tremendous amount of disinformation in Brazilian media right now, so for me it was important to put this on the air, on a national channel for millions of people, to remind them that the virus is still among us. It’s also a tribute to the health professionals who are on the front lines of battle every day working to minimize the fatal effects of the virus.

Now more than ever we have to revalue the position of doctors in our society. What does it mean to be a doctor this day and age?

Waddington: As Evandro, our main character, says after losing another patient, “They have no one, only us, let’s get to work, we choose this profession.” There’s a commitment made by the medical world to go to the front line, that is in their vocation, and it’s rare to see the points of view of those inside the hospital on the news. In the case of COVID-19, the sick are also terribly isolated, which requires further dedication from health professionals who act as an intermediary with family members and substitute the absence of loved ones.

Paraizo: In the second episode, we had a flashback, which we don’t usually do. But we wanted to ask why these doctors do what they do, where does this vocation come from? For the character, it was seeing another doctor save his mother’s life. For us it was a way of not only seeing what happens every day to these people but to feel what leads these people to do what they do. The first episode is a punch, a reminder of the gravity of the situation and the second episode comes with a great amount of hope, it comes with Gilberto Gil’s music, life is here, we continue.

Your show never shies away from social commentary and this special is no exception, could you comment?

Waddington: The world has underestimated the speed of the spread, which was greatly minimized until March. There was a delay in declaring a pandemic and countries took different routes in dealing with it. You clearly see the development of viruses in different environments. The idea was not to put political criticism in the foreground but instead to talk about the doctors who are our heroes. However, respirators not coming due to corruption and the absence of state leadership is in the background of the series, and very much present in Brazil.

Paraizo: “Under Pressure” establishes a dialogue with reality. We always say that we are political without being partisan, and no political criticism would be in our series if it did not affect health issues and our characters. Our job is to work with the idea that emotion produces transformation. We support, above all else, science and medicine. What we see when the equipment that the team is waiting for doesn’t arrive is, as Andrucha says, secondary, but it affects our main story. Our story is impacted by this, which we read in the newspaper, it happened.

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