Producing in a Pandemic: Creating Groundbreaking Television in Unprecedented Times

Producing in a Pandemic: Creating Groundbreaking Television in Unprecedented Times
Producer Grivas Kopti

We sat down with celebrated television producer Grivas Kopti to get insight on maintaining quality output during unprecedented times.

It’s a glorious morning in Downtown LA, and I sit in a super artsy cafe with old western movie posters on the walls and ceilings, sipping on my matcha latte, as I await excitedly the arrival of busy Producer Kopti. After weeks of optimistic attempts, I was finally able to track him down first thing on a Friday as he was getting Covid tested for the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards that were taking place two days later on Sunday.

Hailed as one of the non-scripted modern stars, Grivas has so far enjoyed a fun and varied career in television. He started out in factual documentaries, then went on to produce extremely successful global singing competition shows, competition shows and dating shows. His most recent hits include season 11 of MasterChef: Legends, You Bet Your Life with Jay Leno, and American Ninja Warrior Jr, the younger sibling of the extremely successful, Emmy-nominated series American Ninja Warrior. A crossover success story, Grivas has produced memorable and highly lucrative titles for Fox, Netflix, NBC, and Universal, amongst others.

All of the shows under Kopti’s belt have one thing in common is that they are all driven by their audiences, respectively. The energy of the cheering crowds and adoring fans are the very core of these dynamic shows.

I was interested to hear from Grivas how he overcame that obstacle of no studio audience for a short while, as well as operating in an unprecedented world of added logistics brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, to continue producing engaging and top-rating hits in such testing times.

First of all, how are you?

Very well, thank you. Busy – but very happy to be. 2021 was a super eventful year and continues to be, so I am thankful.

What was it like being on set with all of these new restrictions?

It was strange for a little bit at first but a big part of a TV Producer’s job is to be adaptable and problem solver, and think quickly on our feet. Once it was safe to go on set again- albeit with all of the restrictions, we saw it as an opportunity to move forward, just doing things slightly different. A lot of the logistics were affected but to be honest, I was fortunate enough to not have to compromise on the content of what we’d usually shoot on any of the productions I was on.

One big thing we worked around is the uncertainty. Having plans B and C if A doesn’t come through due to external factors. And of course, working with a great crew and talent is key.

How different is it producing talent in these circumstances?

I’m honestly glad I can be on set most of the time. Yes – Zoom is a God-send for a lot of networks right now. But being on set still allows face-to-face communication. As long as there’s a healthy and productive dynamic between Producers, Networks, and Talent- that shouldn’t change.

For the times I’ve had to do my job digitally, I’ve made sure to meet (while following distancing guidelines) with talent, to build a rapport and creative bond- I think that’s important and saves a lot of time in production later on.

A key aspect of the hit TV shows you produce is the buzzing audiences you have. You’ve mentioned before that an audience is “the backbone” of a TV show. How have you adapted to not being able to have an audience for a while?

I’m personally not a huge fan of using pre-recorded audio for cheering audiences in shows. I think the viewers always know and it doesn’t have the same feel. With the timing of everything, by the time I was out of the production office and back on set, the State of California had started to allow reduced audiences. And luckily the audiences that did show up were fantastic. Their energy made up for the missing seats.

Considering the overall climate, I think viewers subconsciously get it and allow themselves to be entertained all the same.

I really love what the Kelly Clarkson Show did with the digital audience screens on each seat, where they were able to get involved in the show via Zoom but still felt a huge part of the studio, because they were. Very smart.

So there is still excitement in live television in these weird times?

Yes- absolutely! I mean, I’m getting ready for The Emmys on Sunday and even though it may be a little different, we’ve tweaked things to ensure the pre-show is still just as fun and high energy. The red carpet will be buzzing and the venue allows for distancing, yet still seeing our favorite Hollywood stars in one arena.

I think streaming definitely takes the lead with a lot of big titles and top names, but big events like awards shows still manifest excitement and a live, shared viewer experience, both on linear TV and online.

What does the future hold?

I’m hoping Covid goes away as soon as possible like everybody, but for now, for as long as we have to, we’ll continue coming up with innovative methods to engage with our viewers and make the best television.

Grivas has been busy on The Emmy awards, and will continue to be on awards season; producing on The People’s Choice Awards, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, The Grammys, and The Oscars, being held on Sunday, March 27, 2022. Oscars nominations will be announced on February 8, 2022.