"Put on a Face Shield!": TV's Top Showrunners Share Lessons Learned From Safe Sets Amid Pandemic

Ava DuVernay and Noah Hawley
Rachel Luna/WireImage; Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Ava DuVernay and Noah Hawley

"There are people whose job it is now to walk around with a 6-foot pool noodle and wave it in your direction."

After months of vacant sets, scripted television is finally getting back into the swing of things — though the swing now means keeping your distance from Sterling K. Brown, lest you wearing a face shield.

For THR’s annual Showrunners Issue, those in the Top 50 who’ve gone back to work — including Ava DuVernay, Courtney Kemp and Noah Hawley — offered up anecdotes and lessons from resuming production under strict COVID-19 protocols. Here’s what they had to say:

“The focus is more intense. Gone are the days of random crewmembers sitting in dark corners of a soundstage looking at their phones. Everything about the production is deliberate, and everyone’s movements are monitored to minimize unnecessary contacts.”
— Noah Hawley, Fargo

Queen Sugar is back, and we bought out an entire boutique hotel in New Orleans, where our entire cast now lives and plays in a bubble. It’s a whole new world these days, but we’re making it work.”
— Ava DuVernay, Queen Sugar

“There are people whose job it is now to walk around with a 6-foot pool noodle and wave it in your direction. It’s always surprising how far away 6 feet actually is.”
— Krista Vernoff, Grey’s Anatomy

“I simply took one small step toward Sterling K. Brown to tell him he’d just been amazing in a scene, and six people screamed at me to put on a face shield. So, that’s new.”
— Dan Fogelman, This Is Us

“To keep numbers of bodies low, writers and I are producing from Los Angeles and watching the [New York] set digitally. Notes are being given through FaceTime and text — it’s so not what it should be. And yet people are adapting. The resilience of my cast and crew is amazing and unmatched.”
— Courtney Kemp, Power Book II: Ghost

"I'm watching the first shots of this block of new episodes via a remote feed. My line producer has become a semi-expert in medical tech as he deals with setting up our mobile lab for testing. My actors are hanging out in separate hair and makeup pods, looking at each other through sliding windows instead of dancing and singing karaoke in the same trailer. Everything is almost unrecognizably different, process-wise, but at the end of the day, we still get to do something magical."
— Angela Kang, The Walking Dead

"We've only been back a week — so far, so good. However, as I'm still running things from the bunker, I hate that I can't just pop out of my office and onto one of the several stages we shoot on."
— Tim Minear, 911

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.