Changing the narrative

THOUGHT LEADERS: Lisa Godfrey, VP of original programming at Corus Entertainment, expects some changes in the way shows are shot in future but is confident the company’s schedules won’t be impacted too much by the production freeze.

Lisa Godfrey

How has the pandemic impacted your business most significantly?
As the situation with Covid-19 continues to evolve, so does our commissioning strategy. This is a very unique time for all business sectors including the television industry. For Corus specifically, we have experienced production delays and holds on original series across Global TV and our specialty channels due to the suspension of all non-essential businesses.

Looking ahead to the 2020/21 broadcast year, we are working closely with our production partners to determine how, when and if it’s best to resume production in both scripted and unscripted shows, and we remain flexible as the situation changes and unfolds.

Which projects have been affected and in what ways?
We had series in various stages of productions when the pandemic hit. Shows that were in post-production were able to move to a work-from-home model, so would could continue to deliver great content to our audiences. Many series were also put on hold due to the suspension of all non-essential businesses. Currently, we are starting to see many productions that had been greenlit previously and [then put] on hold get back up and running now and over the next couple of months.

When do you expect these projects to be back on track?
Many are starting up now; we have series in British Columbia that are back up and running. So far, it’s primarily our factual series that have very small crews. Toronto and surrounding areas are also opening up now and preparing to start production over the next couple of months. There are still challenges that need to be met to get some of our bigger drama series into production, as these have large crews and require strict safety measures be put in place – which all our production partners are actively working on.

What new programming initiatives have you introduced to make up for the deficit brought about by these projects being put on hold?
There really was no need for us to change our programming strategy. When the pandemic hit, we had several shows ready to hit the air in spring and many almost complete for the fall schedules, so we were in good shape from a programming perspective. The rest of our slate will roll out throughout the year ahead and we look forward to delivering a robust schedule of original programming to our audiences.

How will your business be different after the pandemic?
We are all hopeful that business will return to normal. New safety measures will change how all of us conduct business and execute the shows we love to make.

How do you think the business as a whole will be different?
There will be new safety measures that will change the way production happens in order to make sure our crews and talent are safe at all times – which is our number one priority. In the short term, there will be changes to the narratives that we explore in our content, especially in dramas. Big crowd scenes and love scenes are just a couple of examples that will have to be rethought and reshaped.

On the lifestyle side, there are a lot of emotional scenes, for example, a homeowner getting a full makeover for their home. These series often come with hugs all around for our very talented team of designers and contractors. The hugs may not be able to happen. [It’s the] same with our food competition series – we will have to rethink many scenes, like running into the pantry to get their food supplies or hugging contestants who are eliminated. There are so many elements that will have to be rethought in the near future.

What will be your biggest challenge?
All of us are aware that safety measures have to be put in place and be effective so that no one gets sick. So, we fear shutdowns, of course. We fear a second wave. Everyone in the production world is worried about the costs, insurance and the safety of our people.

What will be the biggest opportunity?
Corus is in a pretty good spot right now as we have two big dramas, Departure and Private Eyes, coming to our fall schedule that will keep audiences with us. On the specialty side, we are confident that our shows will get back up and running quickly, so channels like HGTV, Food and History will have full slates of Canadian content. Our animated kids’ content has also not suffered like live-action has, so we will have great shows coming to YTV and Teletoon. Also, our content business, with our robust catalogues from Nelvana and Corus Studios, has seen a solid uptick in sales to international channels, so this has proven to be a great opportunity to grow an additional revenue stream for Corus.

What ‘good’ has come of the pandemic?
The work-from-home shift has, in many ways, been a positive for many people. I hear countless stories of people really enjoying that experience and feeling that they can function in a new environment just as effectively. I also feel that our relationship with our production partners has been positive and encouraging. We are all in this together and you really feel the collaboration, the trust and dedication of all parties coming together to ‘make it happen.’
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