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April 24, 2020

More Than Ratings

TV industry steps up to help with COVID-19 pandemic initiatives

Dinah Eng
  • The Good Doctor

    ABC
  • Magnum, P.I.

    CBS
  • NCIS: New Orleans

    CBS
  • New Amsterdam

    NBC
  • The Resident

    Fox

While people are staying home watching TV, the Big Four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and cable channels have rolled up their sleeves to do what they can to help first responders and aid those most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

When social distancing mandates were issued to fight the coronavirus pandemic in March, many Hollywood productions ground to a halt... and shifted gears to join the fight.

Medical shows like CBS's Carol's Second Act, ABC's The Good Doctor, Fox's The Resident and NBC's New Amsterdam gathered surgical masks, gowns, gloves and other medical supplies from sets and donated them to hospitals in need.

New Amsterdam, based in New York, was filming in Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn when word came down that there were potential coronavirus patients in the hospital. After finishing the shoot on a set, production shut down, and the cast and crew were sent home.

"Janet (Montgomery) and Jocko (Sims) were the first cast members to text me and ask, what are we doing to help?" says David Schulner, executive producer of New Amsterdam. "I started reaching out to others, to do everything we could."

The show's costume, props and set decoration department heads went into warehouses and raided sets for every piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) that wasn't nailed down for donation.

Within 24 hours, nearly a truck-load of supplies was delivered to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where a field hospital was being set up.

At CBS, all shows were scoured for potential PPE, with Kevin Berg, senior executive vice president, production, and Lauri Metrose, executive vice president, communications for CBS Television Studios leading the charge.


Lauri Metrose: Hospitals reached out to contacts they had at the shows, and we jumped at the opportunity to help," Metrose says. "There's a medic on every set, and you never know what other departments might have.


"Hospitals reached out to contacts they had at the shows, and we jumped at the opportunity to help," Metrose says. "There's a medic on every set, and you never know what other departments might have."

The CBS execs found gloves, hand sanitizer, shoe covers, goggles, N95 respirator masks and more on the sets of NCIS, Blue Bloods, Star Trek: Discovery and other shows.

Donations from Hawaii 5-0 and Magnum, P.I. went to hospitals on the island. MacGyver, which films in Atlanta, and NCIS: New Orleans, which films in The Big Easy, sent supplies to their nearby hospitals.

In New York, Dan Lawson, who heads the costume department for The Good Fight, was sewing face masks for the Bergen (County) Mask Task Force in New Jersey when Brooke Kennedy, executive producer on The Good Fight, called and asked Lawson to see what the show could contribute.

Lawson's team gathered everything from full body coveralls, used in an episode about a meat packing plant, to latex gloves, used for dying fabric. Supplies were donated to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which set up a temporary hospital in Long Island City, and other medical facilities.

Seven members of Lawson's team are sewing face masks, using fabric from the show's costume department, material they had at home, and donated fabric from Lafayette148NY, and sending them to those in need.

"This is a long, ongoing process," says Lawson, who spends half of each day at his sewing machine, making face masks. "Everything we're doing is a drop in the bucket, but each drop will help fill the bucket."

In addition to donating supplies, CBS Studios is sponsoring meals for first responders in New York. Nancy Hermann, unit production manager for The Good Fight, has coordinated efforts with the show's location managers and contacts to feed those on the front lines.

"The owner of our catering company knew of a commercial kitchen in midtown where they can cook 250 to 500 meals a day, and that would be central enough for pick-ups," Herman says. "The Teamsters are volunteering to deliver the food."

Every day, The Good Fight operation delivers a warm meal to MTA (transit workers), the New York Police Department and paramedics with the city's Emergency Medical Services between 11 a.m. and noon, when shifts change.

Ten hospitals and three food banks have requested meals, and Hermann's team continues to reach out to new hospitals.

The economic fallout from COVID-19 has put millions out of work, and the need for food has grown exponentially. Talent across the ABC Network, including Robin Roberts, Anthony Anderson, Lionel Richie and others, have taped a PSA promoting Feeding America's 200 food banks nationwide.

ABC's The Good Doctor, which films in Vancouver, sent surgical masks, surgical gowns, face shields, medical caps, soap, disposable booties, isolation suits and latex gloves to its regional health authority, Vancouver Coastal Health.


Krista Vernoff, executive producer of Station 19 and Grey's Anatomy: At Station 19, we were lucky enough to have about 300 of the coveted N95 masks, which we donated to our local fire station (in Los Feliz),


"At Station 19, we were lucky enough to have about 300 of the coveted N95 masks, which we donated to our local fire station (in Los Feliz)," says Krista Vernoff, executive producer of Station 19 and Grey's Anatomy.

"At Grey's Anatomy, we have a backstock of gowns and gloves, which we are donating as well. We are all overwhelmed with gratitude for our healthcare workers during this incredibly difficult time."

Hospitals in Los Angeles and New York also received medical supplies from Fox's 9-1-1, 9-1-1: Lone Star and The Masked Singer, while more than five pallets of goods (ranging from antibacterial wipes and toilet paper to food and baby products) from Filthy Rich went to Community Kitchen and NOLA Covid-19 Mutual Aid Group in New Orleans.

Fox has launched #AtHomeWith, a digital campaign to focus on storytelling with Fox stars, TV viewing, and giving back through charitable donations to Feeding America.

In March, the benefit special, Fox Presents the iHeart Living Room Concert for America, raised more than $15 million for Feeding America and First Responders Children's Foundation.

This month, the producers and cast of Fox's Duncanville put together a virtual table read of the show's pilot to benefit Feeding America.

Ty Burrell, who participated in the table read, also initiated a program called Tip Your Server to benefit unemployed food and beverage workers in Salt Lake City, where he and family members own two restaurants.

"My wife and I were both servers when we were starting out as actors," says Burrell, who, with his wife Holly, donated the first $100,000 to start the program. "We're trying to get money into people's hands as quickly as possible, to create a stopgap measure while people wait for state and federal funds."

In its first month, the program has raised $500,000 through donations.

With production shut down, the cast of CBS' SEAL Team has been doing virtual visits with servicemen and women overseas through the USO. David Boreanaz, who plays Jason Hayes, leader of Bravo Team, recently spoke with military personnel at Al Asad air base in Iraq.

Most of the service members were from Ft. Bragg, N.C. and Ft. Wainwright, Alaska. The base, which was attacked by Iranian missiles in January, has not had any entertainment visits since December 2018 because of real world events.

"It was terrific to meet the soldiers over there," Boreanaz says. "There were about 25 or 30 people in the room. We talked for 45 minutes about sports, what's going on with the show, and did Q&A. It's an opportunity to talk to people who can use a break. Everyone needs that at this time. There was a lot of laugher."

On the cable front, HBO has encouraged viewers to #StayHomeBoxOffice, by offering dozens of free series, documentaries and WB movies on HBO NOW and HBO GO.

WarnerMedia also took inventories of its office buildings and productions, and donated PPE to hospitals, medical centers and first responders. Employee cafeterias donated 3,000-plus pounds of food to local food banks.

BET broadcast the special, Saving Our Selves: A BET COVID-19 Relief Effort, with host Anthony Anderson to combat the racial disparities of the coronavirus pandemic. Recent findings have shown that African Americans have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic's health and financial fallout.

So BET, in partnership with the NAACP, United Way Worldwide, leaders in the African American community and numerous corporations, pledged to provide help to the African Americans hardest hit by the crisis.

Free entertainment is also being offered by Ovation TV, which has made select arts programming available at no cost on the Ovation NOW app, and on Ovation's website. The content can be found in a new section called Art House.

To help prevent the spread of the virus, Freeform launched a multiplatform social distancing campaign (#StayTheFFHome), encouraging young adults to stay home.

Reminding everyone that the heroes of this pandemic are the healthcare workers around the world who are fighting for lives every day was at the heart of Global Citizen and Lady Gaga's One World: Together at Home, a virtual concert featuring prominent artists from around the world, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert.

The show, which aired on ABC, NBC, ViacomCBS Networks, The CW, BBC One and other broadcasters worldwide -- as well as on digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and YouTube -- raised more than $127 million for the World Health Organization, the vaccine development alliance Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, UNICEF, and more than 100 charities, including Feeding America and United Way.

As Lauri Metrose at CBS noted, the television industry's effort to help during the COVID-19 crisis "is an ongoing thing now."

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