Since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world — possibly indefinitely — the TV/film industry has taken creative steps to produce content while staying safe.
While curating engaging storylines, NBC’s popular “One Chicago” franchise consisting of “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago P.D.,” and “Chicago Med” is trying to keep things as normal as possible. But cast members often are reminded of the new reality COVID brings to their lives.
Jesse Spencer, who plays Firehouse 51 Capt. Matthew Casey on “Chicago Fire,” admits he often forgets to put on his mandatory mask when he leaves his trailer, even though he knows better.
“‘The aim is to make the same show just slightly different’ is the way that it was put to me; we wanted to keep the same energy,” he says. “You know the relationships are the most important thing in this show. We want to focus on them and just somehow shoot it safely, so it’s been interesting; it’s different but it’s fine. It’s not so obtrusive that it’s unworkable, you know.”
“Dick Wolf [creator and executive producer of the ‘One Chicago’ franchise] and NBC have been really successful, and we’re really happy to be working.”
Last August, Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, where the “One Chicago” shows are filmed, set precautions including wearing a mask at all times when not filming, mandatory social distancing, and temperature checks upon entering the campus. In November, “Chicago Fire” shut down production for two weeks after several team members tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19, cast members are making do.
“I miss my family in California; I haven’t seen them since I took a road trip out there when we were on break,” said “Fire” cast member Miranda Rae Mayo, who plays firefighter Stella Kidd. “… it’s one of those things where it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just what it is and everything is an opportunity to alchemize something into gold.”
“Chicago Fire” actor Taylor Kinney, who plays Lt. Kelly Severide, Kidd’s love interest, misses his favorite Chicago outings.
“I miss going to Cubs games. I miss going to Blackhawks games. I miss cruising around the city,” said Kinney. “I feel really fortunate and lucky to be working because there’s still a lot of people that aren’t.”
Others have thrived in having storylines jibe with the times.
At the start of “Chicago Med’s” season 6, hospital administrator Sharon Goodwin, played by S. Epatha Merkerson, was communicating with staff members via Zoom due to her age and her diabetes, a preexisting condition making her more susceptible to COVID-19.
“Zoom was my bubble,” said Merkerson. “That was difficult because I really enjoy the people that I work with, and when you’re sitting at home with lights on you in a screen, you feel separated and isolated, although I believe that it was important because what we’ve established is Goodwin is a diabetic, and she’s over 65. And so it would be important to show that she needed this time to isolate herself for safety reasons because of the outbreak.”
Merkerson, who played a police officer on NBC’s “Law and Order” for several years, loves how the show accurately portrays first responders responding to the pandemic.
“I really do appreciate that the writers incorporated that into the storyline because so many of us are isolated and in Zoom situations and not going into work,” she says. “It was important to show that and to allow her to go back into the environment to see how she functions within. … I appreciate the honesty of the ‘One Chicago’ shows; they show the good, the bad, and the ugly, which is very important. I think that’s what ‘Med’ successfully shows — how we’re first responders who work in a hospital. Especially within the middle of this madness of the pandemic.”
Stars of the three “One Chicago” shows will reach out to fans during a free hourlong virtual event starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday at youtube.com/nbconechicago. The lineup includes a trivia game, set tours and prize giveaways.