How TV Shows Have Incorporated COVID-19 Storylines (Photos)

From Freeform’s “Love in the Time of Corona” to a “Grey’s Anatomy”-“Station 19” crossover

As TV shows begin to return to air this fall, showrunners have had to decide whether or not to incorporate the coronavirus pandemic into their future storylines. From video chat-inspired comedies about quarantine to medical dramas facing the biggest medical story in generation, here’s how shows are incorporating COVID-19 into upcoming episodes.

Several series directly addressing the coronavirus pandemic have cropped up in recent months, beginning with Freeform’s “Love in the Time of Corona” back in August. Filmed entirely in quarantine using remote technology and actors in their homes performing opposite their real-life loved ones, the series was one of the first scripted programs to document the early days of lockdown.

Unlike “Love in the Time of Corona,” NBC’s “Connecting…” used a Zoom-inspired format, featuring its characters in small, on-screen boxes talking directly to the camera. The series addresses life during the pandemic with the spirit of a traditional ensemble comedy.

Netflix’s “Social Distance,” from “Orange Is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan, also employs the video-chat format, though the eight-episode anthology series takes a more grounded tone than its NBC counterpart.

The CBS legal drama “All Rise” was one of the first broadcast series to return to air with a one-off remotely produced special following the production shutdown back in March. The episode saw Simone Missick’s Judge Lola Carmichael preside over a virtual trial filmed using a variety of video conferencing apps, including FaceTime, WebEx and Zoom.

Animation has had an easier time adjusting to the new production realities, and Comedy Central’s “South Park” made use of that adaptability with September’s “Pandemic Special,” a standalone episode which saw the show’s main cast heading back to school post-lockdown.

Several shows have also tried to jump on the animation train to get episodes back on the air, including Pop TV’s “One Day at a Time” and ABC’s “black-ish.” While the animated “black-ish” special focused primarily on the upcoming presidential election, showrunner Courtney Lilly has said future episodes this season will be set during the early days of the pandemic.

“black-ish” creator Kenya Barris has also said the college-set spinoff “grown-ish” will also incorporate the pandemic in its upcoming season, exploring the effects of COVID-19 on the lives of students.

Medical dramas have a unique opportunity to directly address the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic when they return this fall, including ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” which will open with a “Station 19” crossover episode set a few weeks into the onset of the outbreak in Washington.

The network’s other medical drama, “The Good Doctor,” is also set to premiere with a two-part episode dedicated to the coronavirus pandemic when it returns for Season 4.

Fox’s “The Resident” will also take on the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in its season premiere, co-creator Amy Holden Jones has said. Future episodes will continue to explore the long-term fallout of the disease, even beyond the wide-scale implementation of a vaccine.

NBC’s “New Amsterdam” is inspired by the New York City hospital that felt the brunt of the pandemic’s effects when the city became an epicenter earlier this year. The series isn’t set to return until midseason, but showrunner David Schulner told Us Weekly the upcoming season will explore topics surrounding the virus, including racial inequality, anti-vaccine movements and violence against frontline workers.

Beyond hospital walls, first responders are also on the frontlines of this pandemic, and “9-1-1” showrunner Tim Minear has said his Fox drama and its spinoff, “9-1-1: Lone Star,” will not be absent from that conversation. In September, the latter series cast “Suits” alum Gina Torres as a paramedic who comes out of retirement because of COVID-19.

Shows that aren’t directly dealing with the medical aspects of a pandemic will also have to decide whether or not to incorporate the effects of COVID-19 in upcoming episodes. When the NBC hit “This Is Us” returns this fall, it will also address COVID-19 in its present-day timeline. Series creator Dan Fogelman responded to a fan tweet by tweeting that the show will “attack things head on” while working toward the same originally planned finale.

“NCIS: New Orleans” will explore the broader ramifications of the pandemic via CCH Pounder’s character, Dr. Loretta Wade. The new episodes will see the coroner overwhelmed with the bodies of those who were killed by the virus, including one person she knew personally, the actress told TV Line.

“Shameless” creator John Wells told THR earlier this year that he rewrote much of the Showtime dramedy’s final season to address the pandemic and its economic effects. Several members of the working-class Gallagher family will come down with the virus.
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