TV bosses say soaps are “the easiest forms of drama to manage within COVID-19 restrictions”

BBC and ITV drama chiefs point out how EastEnders, Corrie and Emmerdale will lead the way.

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Soap operas will provide the blueprint for TV drama in the future as lockdown restrictions ease and programmes forced to suspend filming due to the coronavirus pandemic finally resume, according to BBC and ITV drama bosses.

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Speaking exclusively to Mark Lawson in the new issue of Radio Times magazine, on sale Tuesday 2nd June 2020, Polly Hill, head of ITV drama, says that soaps are the easiest forms of drama to manage within the current regulations put in place by government guidelines.

“There are a lot of two-hander scenes and the sets are already there,” said Hill. “For a new drama, the start-up and daily running costs are huge. So the financial implications are terrifying if you have to stop because someone falls ill.

“The daytime and entertainment shows that have kept going through lockdown, including Loose Women and This Morning, have taught us a lot about how to run a socially distanced set – crews separated into teams and different entrances and exits and so on.”

With their huge casts and factory-like production model built specifically to be adaptable to last-minute changes, soaps are rising to the challenge of filming within new health and safety measures, with Emmerdale back in production, Coronation Street to follow in a matter of days and EastEnders hoping for a mid-June return.

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Hill’s counterpart at the BBC, Piers Wenger, controller of the channel’s drama commissioning, agrees.

“Some soaps in other countries have carried on filming during social distancing – cheating the camera angles or editing together actors filmed separately. So there are ways around it.”

Neighbours has already revealed some behind-the-scenes secrets of how it only had a few weeks of hiatus as opposed to the months of shutdown endured by the UK soaps.

“EastEnders is set in a version of the here-and-now, so when it returns it won’t be a Covid-free Walford,” adds Wenger. “There will be social distancing and so on. But we may not dwell on the virus and make it the heart of the story. I’m unsure about that.

“I think people watch a show like EastEnders for the characters and their relationships, so Covd-19 will be there but it won’t be the only thing happening in Albert Square.”

Wenger and Hill acknowledge the soap approach of pared-down cast and crew only can only go so far, and also discuss with Lawson the wider, long-term impact of the pandemic elsewhere in the genre, and if it will be addressed in contemporary drama being commissioned and filmed in the coming months.

“We don’t know how long wearing masks and social distancing are going to be part of our contemporary reality,” says Wenger, “so if we rush into making them part of contemporary drama it may look dated or odd when it airs in a year’s time. People don’t necessarily want cold reality reflected back to them, that’s for news and current affairs. On the whole, we’re watching drama for bigger moral and emotional stories.”

Read the full article in Radio Times, on sale from Tuesday 2nd June 2020.

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