TV Talk

Netflix Party Offers a Way to Watch TV with Friends, Despite Social Distancing

Plus, The Lord of the Rings and The Witcher season 2 halt production, and talk show hosts get creative in the biggest TV and streaming stories of the week.

by | March 20, 2020 | Comments

While COVID-19 continues to impact the TV industry in big ways, talk show hosts try to keep giving us things to laugh about (including a brief comeback from Rosie O’Donnell to help her fellow entertainers), Netflix gives us a new way to be socially less distant, and more in the week’s top TV news.


TOP STORY

Netflix Party Makes It Possible to Have a Group Bingewatch (and Not Just a Virtual One)

THE OFFICE -- "A.A.R.M." Episode 922 -- Pictured: (l-r) Catherine Tate as Nellie Bertram, Jake Lacy as Pete, Ellie Kemper as Erin Hannon, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, Kate Flannery as Meredith Palmer, Angela Kinsey as Angela Martin, Oscar Nunez as Oscar Martinez, John Krasinski as Jim Halpert, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly Halpert -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Binge-watching episodes of The Office for the 37th time just got more fun. Thanks to a new Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party (available here), you can have movie nights and group TV viewing parties of your favorite Netflix programming.

And not only does the extension allow you to watch programming at the same time on your computers, but Netflix Party also features a chat room, so you can quote Michael Scott’s wackiest words to each other, or debate whether or not “Scott’s Tots” is the worst Office episode of all time. We kid. There’s no debate. It is absolutely the worst Office episode of all time.

Hopefully you stashed away plenty of snack fare, because COVID-19 social distancing just got the tiniest bit more bearable.

Update: Netflix also announced that the company has created a $100 million emergency support fund for entertainment industry workers. Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said in a statement:

The Covid-19 crisis is devastating for many industries, including the creative community. Almost all television and film production has now ceased globally – leaving hundreds of thousands of crew and cast without jobs. These include electricians, carpenters, drivers, hair and makeup artists and more, many of whom are paid hourly wages and work on a project-to-project basis.

This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times, especially while governments are still figuring out what economic support they will provide. So we’ve created a $100 million fund to help with hardship in the creative community.

Most of the fund will go towards support for the hardest hit workers on our own productions around the world. We’re in the process of working out exactly what this means, production by production. This is in addition to the two weeks pay we’ve already committed to the crew and cast on productions we were forced to suspend last week.

Beyond helping workers on our own productions, we also want to support the broader film and television industry. So $15 million of the fund will go to third parties and non-profits providing emergency relief to out-of-work crew and cast in the countries where we have a large production base.

Netflix will provide $1 million each to the SAG-AFTRA Covid-19 Disaster Fund, the Motion Picture and Television Fund, and the Actors Fund Emergency Assistance in the U.S., and $1 million between the AFC and Fondation des Artistes. Additional allocations worldwide will be announced next week.


Lord of the Rings, The Witcher Among the Latest Coronavirus-Related Production Halts

Lord of the Rings series map (Amazon Prime Video)

Amazon Prime’s The Lord of the Rings series was shut down March 16, according to a memo acquired by The New Zealand Herald.

“This is done in an environment where travel restrictions directed at the control of Covid-19 are issued daily by New Zealand and most other countries…we are doing this to minimise stress on the resources and infrastructures around us by doing our part to reduce population density in our communities and daily activities, in efforts to help reduce the spread of the virus,” the memo read in part.

Netflix similarly shut down production on season 2 of The Witcher for two weeks, Deadline reported, noting that crew will continue to be paid during the hiatus. The show is filmed around 40 miles west of London at Arborfield Studios. Meanwhile, another Netflix production, The Crown was so near completion on season 4 that filming continued this week; though the production wrapped early, according to EW.

Plus, that Friends reunion special that was going to be a highlight of HBO Max’s debut month in May might have to wait. THR.com reports the show, which will feature Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer getting together for an unscripted celebration of the 10-season sitcom, was scheduled to tape next week, but now could be pushed off for a May tape date, because of coronavirus concerns. HBO Max will be the streaming home for the series when it launches.

In other coronavirus-related TV rescheduling news:

  • American Idol suspended production and sent contestants home for now. Taped episodes will continue to air through the middle of April, when live episodes were scheduled to begin. (TV Line)
  • Because of a delay in production on the fourth season of Fargo, starring Chris Rock, FX has postponed the premiere of the season, which was scheduled to debut on April 19.
  • New episodes of Saturday Night Live have been postponed until at least the middle of April. John Krasinski had been scheduled to host the March 28 episode, with musical guest Dua Lipa.
  • ABC has temporarily replaced its daytime talk show Strahan, Sara and Keke with a daily coronavirus update special. Pandemic: What You Need to Know is hosted by Amy Robach, and will include news updates, interviews with experts, and conversations with service workers, corporate CEOs, and others deeply impacted by the pandemic.
  • The Kelly Clarkson–hosted Billboard Music Awards, scheduled to air live from Las Vegas on April 29, have been postponed indefinitely.
  • Netflix has postponed its first-ever, all-star Netflix Is a Joke comedy festival, originally planned for April 27–May 3.
  • WrestleMania 36 will continue as a pay-per-view event, with no audience, and spread across two nights: April 4 and 5.
  • The British Academy has postponed its TV awards, originally scheduled for May 17, and its TV craft awards, originally scheduled for April 26, indefinitely.
  • Several TV series that have shut down production during the pandemic have donated goods to hospitals whose medical supplies are running dangerously low. EW reports The Resident, The Good Doctor, and Station 19 have donated boxes of masks, gloves, and gowns to hospitals in Atlanta, Vancouver, and Los Angeles.
  • TV writers rooms have found a way to keep working – offering hope that new series will launch and that we’ll see new seasons of our favorite shows – thanks to virtual meetings via the Zoom app. (THR)
  • The Kentucky Derby has been postponed for the first time since World War II. Usually run on the first Saturday in May, it is now rescheduled for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5.
  • With studio production on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert shut down, CBS has moved the production of CBS This Morning to Colbert’s home at the Ed Sullivan Theater in Times Square, as the network has moved operations out of two of its buildings in NYC.
  • MIPTV, the international television market that was originally scheduled for the end of March in Cannes, has created a digital alternative. MIPTV Online+ will launch on March 30 and be available free to those who were registered for the Cannes event.
  • The Dr. Oz Show will be filmed remotely, after a staffer on Dr. Mehmet Oz’s daytime series tested positive for coronavirus. (Page Six)
  • Nervous about conflicting information about the pandemic, Whoopi Goldberg began performing her co-hosting duties on The View from from home this week. Meanwhile, Today host Savannah Guthrie and weatherman Al Roker are also performing their morning show duties from home.
  • Showtime will begin airing just one new episode of its Don Cheadle comedy Black Monday, instead of two, per week, beginning on March 22.
  • Vice TV’s Vice News Tonight series has gone on hiatus for an indefinite time.

In the rare piece of good news in TV land this week: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC saw a three percent increase in viewership for the week ending March 15, when working at home and social distancing became a reality for many viewers. The week’s top shows: NCIS with 10.7 million viewers, 60 Minutes with 10.4, Young Sheldon with 8.8, The Voice with 8.7, and The Bachelor with 8.4.

But The New York Times warns that while social distancing has led to an uptick in viewers across network, cable, and streaming services, as the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic grows, viewers could soon be looking to cut the cord and cancel their streaming subscriptions.


Talk Shows Keep the Home Fires Burning on Digital

Jimmy Fallon is also promising a nightly YouTube version of The Tonight Show: Home Edition, with his wife as camera person, songs and jokes, a spotlight on a different charity each night, and guest appearances by his kids. Jimmy Kimmel is also offering fans episodes of Quarantine Minilogues from his home, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah launched The Daily Social Distancing Show from his home (specifically, his couch), and Stephen Colbert is also dropping bon mots from various locations in his house, including the bathtub.

Samantha Bee has launched a daily digital series – Beeing at Home with Samantha Bee! – in which “Sam has relocated to a rustic woodshed to teach everyone how to chop their own wood for warmth while practicing social distancing,” according to TBS. “She gives an answer to the question of how much wood would a late-night host chop? It’s one, one piece of wood.”

Conan O’Brien announced he will resume his TBS late-night talk show Conan on March 30, making the show the first late-night show to return to a regular schedule. He will be filming via iPhone, without an audience. His staffers will work from home, and guests will appear via video. In a release, O’Brien joked, “The quality of my work will not go down, because technically, that’s not possible.”

The Rosie O’Donnell Show is back … for one night only, and only online. But O’Donnell, whose Emmy-winning talk show ran for six seasons in 1996-2002, has gathered a line-up of A-listers to appear via social distancing-friendly video from their homes. The special, which will raise money for The Actors Fund to benefit entertainment and performing arts professionals who are out of work because of the coronavirus, will include appearances by Beth Behrs, Nate Berkus, Tituss Burgess, Norbert Leo Butz, Kristin Chenoweth, Darren Criss, Gloria Estefan, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harvey Fierstein, David Foster, Morgan Freeman, Neil Patrick Harris, Judith Light, Barry Manilow, Audra McDonald, Katharine McPhee, Idina Menzel, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells, Chita Rivera, and Ben Vereen, plus dozens more. The show will air live on YouTube and Broadway.com at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 22. (THR)

Queer Eye star Antoni Porowski has launched a new quarantine-era cooking show on Instagram. Quar Eye: Cooking Lessons from Quarantine has so far included a how-to on making a “Keep Calm-lette.”


New Trailers: Harley Quinn Season 2 Offers More Raunchy Animated Villainy

More trailers:

  • Billions, season 5, starring Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, and Corey Stoll (Showtime)
  • Upload, season 1, a new comedy from The Office creator Greg Daniels, starring Robbie Amell (Prime Video)
  • Reno 911! revival (Quibi)
  • Insecure, season 4, starring Issa Rae (HBO)
  • One Day at a Time, season 4, starring Justina Machado (Pop)
  • Bosch, season 6, starring Titus Welliver (Prime Video)
  • Wynonna Earp, season 4, starring Melanie Scrofano (Syfy)
  • Liar, season 2, starring Joanne Froggatt and Ioan Gruffudd (SundanceTV)
  • Vice revival (Showtime)
  • Dismantled, reality cooking competition hosted by Tituss Burgess (Quibi)
  • The Platform, a horror satire movie, starring Ivan Massagué (Netflix)
  • Nailed It!, season 4, hosted by Nicole Byer (Netflix)
  • Murder House Flip, reality series about renovating homes that were crime scenes (Quibi)

For all the latest TV and streaming trailers, subscribe to the Rotten Tomatoes TV YouTube channel.


R&B Star Kelis Will Host New Cannabis-Themed Cooking Competition on Netflix

“Milkshake” singer Kelis will co-host a cooking competition series that challenges chefs to create a three-course meal featuring cannabis. Cooked with Cannabis premieres on Netflix on April 20.

The Netflix synopsis:

Long gone are the days of pot brownies and marijuana cookies. Today, the top chefs around the country and around the world are creating cannabis-infused culinary masterpieces. Here lies the most fun-filled, fascinating and mouth-watering cooking competition series that gives a whole new meaning to the word “baked.”


Development News: The Masked Singer’s Swan Gets Fox Deal

The Masked Singer's Swan, Bella Thorne, is unveiled. (Fox)
(Photo by Fox)

Straight off her appearance as the Swan on The Masked Singer, Shake It Up and Famous in Love star Bella Thorne has signed a deal with Fox to create teen-aimed scripted and unscripted shows for the network. (Variety)

The Academy of Country Music is also bringing top acts to viewers via at-home performances, with the two-hour ACM Presents: Our Country special on April 5 on CBS. Acts, to be announced later, will perform acoustic numbers and talk about their favorite moments from past ACM awards shows.

In honor of The Office’s 15th anniversary, fans have the chance to vote on the show’s all-time greatest episode, via a March Madness-style bracket on Twitter. Round 1 is complete, but there’s still time to help decide the top pick. 

Fox Corporation is acquiring free (advertiser-supported) streaming service Tubi, which provides nearly 25 million viewers with thousands of TV shows – like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette,  Dark Shadows, The Dead Zone, and Degrassi: The Next Generation – and movies – like Minority Report, Black Hawk Down, and Thelma & Louise. Fox, which will pay $440 million for Tubi, doesn’t currently have its own streaming service, as Fox Corp. is separate from 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox), which is now under the Disney umbrella. (The Verge)

Meanwhile, Fox has made Fox News available to viewers to stream for free at FoxNews.com, without cable access, during the pandemic. (THR)

AMC Networks streaming services Shudder and Sundance Now are offering free 30-day trials.

Bring on the 30 for 30 marathons: How is ESPN going to program hundreds of hours of airtime with no professional or college live sporting events. The answer: lots of breaking news and replays of archive games, possibly an early premiere of a 10-part docuseries about Michael Jordan’s final NBA season, and, yes, lots of the network’s wonderful 30 for 30 installments. (Vulture)

New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein is suing Netflix and producer Ava DuVernay for defamation over her portrayal in the 2019 Emmy-winning limited series When They See Us. Fairstein alleges the series portrayed her in a “false and defamatory manner.” She was among those sued by the “Central Park Five,” the young men charged with and wrongly convicted of the sexual assault of a jogger in Central Park in 1989. DNA evidence and a confession by another man cleared the five young men, who later successfully sued the city of New York and a group of prosecutors that included Fairstein. (THR) DuVernay previously told The Daily Beast that Fairstein had tried to negotiate her participation: “she tried to negotiate conditions for her to speak with me, including approvals over the script and some other things. So you know what my answer was to that, and we didn’t talk.”

And finally, the latest TV show to get the Funko Pop! figure treatment: Schitt’s Creek. Characters available for preorder include (Amazon links): MoiraJohnnyAlexis, and David.

There’s also a “Finding David” alternative figure that, EW reports, fans buying the standard David figure have a 1:6 chance of getting instead.

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