TV Production Adapted to Weather the Pandemic. Now What?

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“Law & Order: SVU” has been appearing as a credit in stage actors’ Playbill biographies for many years, but once Broadway shut down it became an even more integral part of their work diet — in part because flying in stars was complicated by quarantine rules, and in part out of a conscious effort to help the New York theater community.

“When everything shut down, we were all like, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Adriane Lenox, a Tony Award winner who played a judge on “SVU” just months after testing positive for the virus early in the pandemic. Ms. Lenox, like many other actors, said she had to go on unemployment at one point and that she had tried to make ends meet by looking for jobs such as dog walking on websites like ZipRecruiter.

She was one of more than 100 local stage actors who were featured on the show this year, according to Warren Leight, its showrunner.

“I just made the call early on: ‘Let’s make this the year where the first pool of actors we go to is the Broadway actors, the off-Broadway actors,’” he said. “It really does seem like the right thing to do. Logistically, it’s easier to hire locally.”

The effects of the pandemic have been felt most acutely in the cities like Los Angeles and New York, where, at least in prepandemic times, roughly two thirds of the country’s film, television and theatrical jobs were located. In New York City, for instance, officials have estimated that employment in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector fell by 66 percent from December 2019 to December 2020.

But there are signs of a rebound. By the end of last year, television shoot days in Los Angeles had recovered to roughly 62 percent of what they had been in 2019, according to FilmLA, the official film office for the city and county of Los Angeles. After taking a hiatus during the winter as an outbreak hobbled California, TV production in the city is approaching normal, prepandemic levels, FilmLA reported last week, even as other sectors of the entertainment industry lag behind.

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