How CBS Pulled Off a New ‘All Rise’ Episode During a Pandemic

“We get to watch these characters go through the exact same things that a lot of people are dealing with,” star Simone Missick told TheWrap

CBS’ upcoming new episode (yes, new) of its rookie legal drama “All Rise” will blur the lines between reality and fiction like never before.

More than a month after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered TV productions everywhere, “All Rise” will return on Monday with an episode set squarely in the throes of the current global health crisis.

“We get to watch these characters go through the exact same things that a lot of people are dealing with,” star Simone Missick told TheWrap. “It will resonate with our audience in a way that’s very honest and very timely.”

Not since the 9/11 terrorist attacks has a real-world event forced its way into a fictional environment like this. But with studios closed and most of the country subject to mandatory “shelter-in-place” orders, the only reason to even do a new episode would be to show the pandemic has infected these fictional characters’ lives.

“The series is all about how do you deal with the Justice System [and] contemporary issues of the Justice System in Los Angeles. How would our characters react to this?” added executive producer Len Goldstein. “If we could get the technology to deliver a great episode — and not just be about the technology — but to try to make a really good episode and come up with a way to deliver that.”

The episode, which sees Missick’s Judge Lola Carmichael preside over a virtual trial, was filmed using a variety of video conferencing apps including FaceTime, WebEx and Zoom. It required the actors to shoulder a much greater burden of the production than they’re used to. “They basically did 12 departments,” said Greg Spottiswood, creator and co-showrunner.

“You have to come camera-ready, set-ready, props-ready, sound-ready, lighting-ready,” Missick said. She had to give a virtual tour of her home to the rest of the crew so they could figure out which ones to use as backgrounds. Other times, special effects were inserted to change the backdrops. Missick joked that the experience “makes you start questioning your decorating ability, as well as your choice of Wi-Fi internet providers.”

The episode took about a week to write, Spottiswood said.

Co-showrunner Dee Lawrence-Harris led a virtual writers’ room, which brought its own challenges. One of them: having to constantly look at the virtual board was “exhausting on the eyes.” Though she was glad that they could pull this off and find a way to interact with each other, Lawrence-Harris doesn’t believe that this is a sustainable model for making TV long-term. She’s wary studios might try to keep it this way for a bit to try and reduce the number of people on the lot when production facilities eventually reopen.

“Is it sustainable in this fashion? It’s really hard. I don’t think it’s going to [be],” she said. “The studios are going to try. It’s hard to do writers’ rooms like that. The magic happens when you’re in those rooms.”

Michael Robin, who directed the episode, said it was a truncated production schedule from a typical episode: “We shot quickly. We shot 64 pages in six days. We typically shoot 60 pages in 7 ½ days.”

But even though they shot more in fewer days, those days were shorter. “Because of the nature of all the work that went into it, even though you’re shooting a shorter day, it’s way more exhausting because of all the other departments that you have to handle,” said Missick.

“All Rise” was in the middle of production on its season finale when Warner Bros.-produced series was shut down. Spottiswood explained they all came up with the idea for a remote episode that dealt with the current world crisis around the same time.

“Our actors are our production value. You don’t see a lot of car crashes,” said Robin. “If you get a great story and stage scenes inside this [virtual] space, with however boxes you might have, you can really see characters connect. We figured a way to basically isolate and record each one of these boxes in a high-definition way and then take those and put them in editorial. That sort of becomes a classic post-production workflow at that point.”

With the shutdown effectively putting pilot season on ice, along with canceling upfronts (though ViacomCBS is trying to put together some kind of virtual presentation for advertisers). That has the domino effect of putting any renewal prospects for “All Rise” in limbo. But if and when they come back for a second season, COVID-19 will be embedded into the show forever, especially as it figures to wreak havoc on the real-life Los Angeles Court system.

“I’m sure we’ll be picking up on it story-wise,” Robin said. “And that will also teach us a lot about how we have to go about capturing it.”

The new “All Rise” will air in the show’s normal timeslot on Monday, May 4 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Tim Baysinger

Tim Baysinger

TV Reporter • • Twitter: @tim_bays


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