A look into the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the television industry

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Credit: Courtesy of Smiley Guys Studios

WSPN's Caterina Tomassini and Alyssa Dickstein speak with Hollywood writer and producer Mike Royce about the pandemic's affect on his television series "One Day at a Time."

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Pop TV’s television series, “One Day at a Time” elected to stop filming in front of a live studio audience due to public health concerns. By mid-March, the entire filming operation was shut down for the foreseeable future, and by mid-April, the series had its abrupt mid-season finale. But, by mid-June, fans of the series will be able to enjoy “One Day at A Time”  and its brand new, no-filming-necessary, animated episode.

“One Day at a Time” writer and producer, Mike Royce, who previously worked on shows such as “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Men of a Certain Age,” provides insight to the animated special. Royce discussed its purpose, plot and structure, in addition to the inner workings of executing a successful animated special of the sitcom while working remotely. This special episode of “One Day at a Time” will premiere on the channel Pop TV on June 16.

“Our show is pretty theatrical and like a play because it’s a sitcom, so we proposed doing an animated episode of it,” Royce said. “Now we’re in the middle of that and it’s actually turning out really well [and] comes out June 16.”

After being cut off mid-season, the show-runners feared the loss of some of their most anticipated episodes. They had plans to release important and timely episodes further along in its current season and did not want to miss the opportunity to address these issues on their show. Among the most devastating losses was an episode on the upcoming presidential election, as it is relevant to the current times. To avoid fears of losing out on all production during quarantine, the “One Day at a Time” team partnered with Smiley Guy Studios in Toronto, Canada to produce an animated version of “The Politics Episode.”

“We were really, really disappointed that we weren’t going to be able to do [the episode] because it has to do with the election,” Royce said. “It’s all about, ‘How do you talk to your family about politics?’”

If you’re not familiar with “One Day at a Time,” the show stars Justina Machado, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, Rita Moreno and Todd Grinnell. Machado plays Penelope, the single mother of two teenagers: Elena, played by Gomez, and Alex, played by Ruiz. Moreno plays the mother to Machado’s character and grandmother to Gomez and Ruiz’s characters. Together, all these characters make up the Alvarez family. The series follows the Alavarez’s, along with their neighbor Schneider (played by Grinnell) as they navigate life as a Cuban-American family.

“[The Alvarez’s] are pretty liberal. They live in Los Angeles,” Royce said. “The plot of the [episode] is that their conservative relatives from Miami show up, and they’re agonizing about how they’re going to get through the week that they’re going to be there because they know they [will have] to talk about politics.”

Royce remarks that the transition to animation was executed smoothly as the animation aligned with the episode’s original storyline, which was intended to be theatrical. This episode also existed separately from the season’s arc, and was easily re-written to lend itself to animation.

“So, the episode is all of them strategizing, like, ‘Maybe we can avoid it?,’ ‘Maybe we should just be polite?’, ‘Maybe we can try to agree?,’ ‘Maybe we can try to discuss it?’ and ‘You know if we’re gonna have an argument: Let’s win it!,’” Royce said. “We just keep popping to [these] fantasy sequences about how [each plan] works out. So [the episode] lent itself to animation!”

Since the Alvarez’s conservative relatives from Miami have appeared on the show before, and were played by Lin Manuel-Miranda, Gloria Estefan and Melissa Fumero, the new animated episode will not diverge from the show’s canonization too much. Thus, no new casting was necessary to voice the relatives. In addition, the main cast will all return to voice their characters.

“A lot of the steps that we would have had to go through creating a new show that would meet the characters [were eliminated because] we already knew who they are, they just had to do drawings based on them,” Royce said. “So we got through a lot of the initial steps pretty quickly but now they’re like, just working– doing all the states creating.”

As the series’ team eagerly awaits June 16, they are now, just like the rest of us in the WHS community, taking things one day at a time.

“And meanwhile, otherwise we’re just waiting,” Royce said.