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Last New Year’s Eve, networks broadcast live from an empty Times Square in New York, which was closed to the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But when ABC, CNN and NBC aired their annual celebrations this year, they welcomed back a limited crowd by following safety protocols.
At the top of ABC’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest, host Seacrest was quick to emphasize that they would be following all of the protocols throughout the night as they prepared to usher out 2021. “We are live. We are in Times Square and, once again, we are following all of the official COVID protocols to make sure we say goodbye to 2021 and welcome the new year the safest way possible,” he said. He also noted that though “crowds might be scaled back,” the “energy and enthusiasm are as big as ever” as they waited to watch the ball drop.
The scaled-back crowd was spread out from each other by small gated areas as officials stood nearby. Seacrest noted that for this year’s show, their crowd was reduced to a quarter of what is normally permitted in the viewing areas. Last year, the show’s main stage in Times Square was framed by a layer of beach balls (positioned where an audience would normally stand) to maintain social distancing. A small group of masked spectators stood near the stage only during the live performances from Ashanti, Ja Rule and Journey.
When Seacrest and first-time co-host Liza Koshy walked near the masked crowd during the telecast, the hosts kept their distance. Signs featuring a “Ball drop? Mask up” phrase hung on the barriers. “They have passed all the screening protocols and are all ready to celebrate as safely as possible,” Koshy said of the crowd.
When turning it over to Ciara, who hosted in Los Angeles in front of a masked audience, the singer also reiterated, “We have a lot of partying to do tonight but we are following all the COVID protocols to make sure we do it safely.” Billy Porter hosted from New Orleans in front of a masked audience as well.
Meanwhile, co-host Roselyn Sanchez led the festivities in Puerto Rico for the show’s first Spanish-language countdown. “To keep everyone safe and to comply with local health protocols, of course, there is no live audience,” Sanchez said. Though no live audience was present, Sanchez said everyone could still feel “the excitement and anticipation” for 2022.
Despite briefly addressing the protocols at the start of the show, the rest of the broadcast centered on upbeat optimism and commemorating 50 years of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Throughout the broadcast, recordings of performances from previous shows were aired, including sets from Taylor Swift, BTS and Mariah Carey.
Los Angeles performers included AJR and duo Daisy The Great, Avril Lavigne and Travis Barker, Big Boi with Sleepy Brown, Don Omar with Nio Garcia, French Montana, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis with Windser, Måneskin, Mae Muller, Polo G, Masked Wolf, OneRepublic and Walker Hayes.
Later on, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden shared a virtual message to offer words of encouragement as the end of the year approached. “This virus has been tough, but we’ve been tougher,” Biden said. “As we enter the new year, I’m more optimistic about America’s future than I’ve ever been.”
ABC’s New Year’s Eve special is produced by MRC Live & Alternative, division of MRC, which is a co-owner of The Hollywood Reporter through a joint venture with Penske Media titled PMRC.
During CNN’s New Year’s Eve Live, hosts Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen also explained the safety protocols they followed prior to the show. “Everybody was tested this morning. Everybody got passes. So it’s hopefully very safe and it’s festive. There’s a lot of police officers here. They’re all in a good mood. Everybody seems to be in a very happy mood,” Cooper said.
As they kicked off the show, the hosts discussed how everything keeps being “reset” and compared this year’s show to the previous one. “It’s a greatly reduced crowd here at Times Square,” Cooper said. After last year’s low-key celebration, Cohen expressed excitement that they now had “a happy hodgepodge” of people this time around. “There was no one here last year,” Cohen said.
As the CDC’s guidelines and protocols have stirred some confusion, Cohen couldn’t help but poke fun: “I feel like the CDC just spins the wheel at this point, wherever it lands, there it goes.”
During the broadcast, Cohen took a moment to reflect on contracting and recovering from COVID-19 for the second time — he had first battled COVID-19 in March 2020. “I did have COVID. I just got over it. I think it was maybe the delta [variant]. So I’m going for number three! Maybe by the time the night is over,” he said. He also shared that while in quarantine, he watched Game of Thrones for the first time, as well as The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II and Gone With the Wind.
Before drinking their traditional first shot of tequila, in honor of the late Betty White, Cohen addressed a message to those at home: “A lot of you are home tonight. Not a lot of big New Year’s parties are happening. We want you all to celebrate with us in whatever way you’re comfortable with.” During another cheers, Cooper toasted to “those who are feeling alone tonight or feeling scared about the new year.” “We’re all together, and we wish you the best,” he said.
Similar to their previous New Year’s Eve broadcasts, Cohen and Cooper virtually welcomed various stars including William Shatner, Patti LaBelle, James Taylor, Katy Perry and Kris Jenner. “It’s very quiet around here, just a few of us trying to keep safe but happy,” Jenner said of her New Year’s Eve plans. Leslie Jordan joined Cohen and Cooper in person, sharing memories of working with the late Betty White.
Over on NBC, Miley Cyrus and Pete Davidson hosted Miley’s New Year’s Eve Party from Miami. When kicking off the show in front of the live, mostly masked audience, Cyrus said the show was looking different than originally planned. “Now this isn’t exactly the New Year’s Eve party we all thought that we were going to have, or even the one that we were planning on last week or just a few hours ago. We’re just trying to think positive or negative, whichever one means you can still taste and smell. So we’re doing this as safely as possible,” she said, adding that everyone in attendance was vaccinated and has been tested.
“We’re racing omicron to midnight and my money is on us. I got tested for COVID so much this week I’m becoming a Q-tip size queen,” Davidson added.
“All the people I’ve invited here are making me way less nervous,” Cyrus said as she noted that she invited friends and family to the event. Brandi Carlile, Noah Cyrus and Saweetie were among the night’s live performers. Cyrus and Davidson also expressed hope for a better 2022, which Cyrus said is a year bound to be “the best of the last three.” “The bar is pretty low,” Davidson said.
At the end of the show, after experiencing a wardrobe malfunction that went viral overnight, Cyrus expressed gratitude for the “flexible” show. “Tonight’s show was all about being flexible, rolling with the punches and making the best out of even the worst circumstances. And that resilience shouldn’t end here. Let’s bring that into the new year with us,” Cyrus said.
Prior to the New Year’s Eve specials airing, networks faced their fair share of sudden changes.
Earlier this week, LL Cool J pulled out of performing on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve after testing positive for COVID-19. Zac Brown Band, Sam Hunt and Elle King also pulled out of performing on CBS’ New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash, filmed in downtown Nashville, according to an announcement from the city.
Though Fox was set to air its second annual Toast & Roast special hosted by actor-comedians Ken Jeong and Joel McHale, the network canceled the show given the omicron cases “made it impossible to produce a live special in Times Square that meets our standards.” The special was set to include performances by Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, Billy Idol, Pink and Trace Adkins.
The start of a new year arrives amid the highly contagious omicron variant being identified as a variant of concern last month. New COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have risen to over 265,000 per day on average. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had first expressed uncertainty over Times Square festivities moving forward as planned but then said the city would proceed with scaled-back celebrations with safety protocols put in place.
Normally, over 58,000 people are hosted in viewing areas, but the amount decreased this year to 15,000. Attendees at New Year’s Eve celebrations were required to provide proof of full vaccination, wear masks and socially distance. According to a news release from de Blasio’s office, visitors who are unable to get vaccinated because of a disability were required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the celebration. Visitors were also not allowed entry until a later time than in past years.
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