We’ve all seen Siobhan Grennan's work or heard her broadcast voice at one time or another. Fluently bilingual, she started her career at CBC Radio before moving to print (Playback Magazine) and into TV as a senior producer during the heyday of MuchMusic. From there, she moved on to CTV and the CBC. More recently she can be found at Moses Znaimer’s specialty MZTV channel headquarters in Toronto’s Liberty Village. She is fast, funny, talented and worth her weight in gold as a writer, director and producer. FYI recently asked her to pen a column for us about working in television production under lockdown. What follows are in her own words.
I am part of the current covid-19 information eco-system. I’m a chase producer and production manager on a TV talk show. And with Canadians tuning in to TV in greater numbers since this lockdown began, especially to news and information programming, effectively, I’m an essential worker.
So, how has my work changed, essentially? First and foremost, my workplace is mindful of keeping staff healthy so we can keep doing what we’re doing. My team is using a skeletal crew, surfaces are being sanitized hourly and we’re connecting with guests via video. Work that can be is done remotely. Collaborating remotely has its win and losses. We are safer but I feel some of the creative spark is lost. Personally, I miss the push-and-pull of an in-person line-up meeting. And the days are longer without brick-and-mortar to clearly mark when you’re working - or not.
On shoot days, the studio is empty except for our tech, a single camera operator and the host. Two months ago there would have been a crew of six to eight, the host and up to 6 panellists, and a hundred or so in the audience. The control room too is thinned out as we stopped doing a live line-cut. Everything else is done post-production. I’m doing my work remotely now because I am quarantining for the sake of my 97- year-old father, but when I was in last, it was I good to see people and experience some normalcy return to the blurred daily routine.
We’re also producing more original content with fewer available staff amidst dropping revenues (and salary rollbacks). Clearly there is a great appetite for information programming NOW. If we can retain these new viewers, that could help with a rebound. But I wonder when the tuning out will start. I think the oversaturation point is very near.
I’m also left wondering how much of this more nimble and cost-efficient approach to production will be kept in place as companies try makeup shortfalls in the months ahead. TV is like my dad back in the day at Christmas dinner: factual and sober and a good provider of context. I think TV will be ok. But radio, harder hit economically, it’s the voice that lights up the room. Like my mom at that same Christmas dinner, after she’s had a glass of wine, radio is lyrical and altruistic. Being a glass-half-full kind of person, I hope we’ll remember the importance of these local and authentic voices when it’s time to turn up the volume on production.
How am I personally handling the situation? Content producers across the country who work on covid-centric programming are coping with this pandemic as individuals as well as professionals. I spend my days digging through the headlines, thinking about what’s important for our audiences to know. By not being able to turn off or tune out, covid has started taking a toll on me personally, especially in the midst of moving my aforementioned father out of long term care and into the home of a sibling. I’m not as sunny as I used to be.
Meantime, anyone who knows me, knows that I have an internal soundtrack constantly playing. Working in the ‘environment’ of MuchMusic years ago while bands performed on the Nation’s Music Station probably has a lot to do with that infiltration. Right now the song playing in my head is The Tragically Hip’s New Orleans is Sinking. ‘I don't wanna swim’. I want to be watching this thing from the safety of solid land. A bit of whinging, I know, but I won’t beat my self up. At the end of the day, I’m already swimming. I know my self-isolation is protecting others as much as myself, and I’m thankful that I’m home with my daughter and that we’re both healthy, and I AM working – and maybe that the work is a bit more meaningful.