Quite the contrary. Despite difficult pandemic conditions, the Redseven Entertainment team found ways to produce the program in June 2020 that chime perfectly with the show’s dramaturgy. Heidi Brückl, Henning Kruse and Tobias Gramann explain how changes that were initially driven by necessity have proved valuable to the show’s further development and possibly worth keeping in the future.
Heidi Brückl: “Canceling was never on the cards. Preparations were already very far along before we went into lockdown. We had as good as settled on the cast – and once it was finalized, the show literally fell into place fully formed in our minds. It felt only natural to us that we should move forward – however, only under three conditions: In addition to receiving official permission from the health authorities, ensuring a safe working environment for our candidates and employees was, of course, essential. Despite the constraints and changes resulting from the pandemic, we also could not afford to lose sight of our goal to create a great show for our audience. Seeing the ‘Germany’s Next Topmodel’ season finale go ahead was very heartening for us. A few weeks before we started production, our colleagues on that show proved that it is possible to produce TV under pandemic conditions. While the result may be a different show, it’s no less watchable.”
Tobias Gramann: “In some ways, we threw ourselves in at the deep end: With four weeks in production and a crew of up to 170 people, ‘The Taste’ is a mammoth project that is complex and labor-intensive even under normal conditions. And you have to remember that, at that early stage of the pandemic, we had very little scope for action. There were virtually no specific legal guidelines and the German statutory liability insurance association for energy, textile, electricity and media (BG ETEM) only published its legally binding production recommendations shortly before we got going. Up to that point, we had taken the initiative on organizing everything. Plus, rapid testing was not available in the form we know today. And the fact that we are handling groceries and the show is all about preparing and eating food didn’t make things any easier. Somehow, we just took it one day at a time and, of course, also picked up ideas from colleagues – some of them went without an audience, others used plexiglas walls. So it was very much a case of learning by doing and asking ourselves what’s possible, what’s permitted and how do we go about it? What can we no longer do and how do we fill those gaps? And how will that strike viewers? The situation was so fluid that there was a new status quo almost every day and a constant need for discussion, as yesterday’s ideas were either scrapped or fine-tuned.”
Henning Kruse: “First of all, we decided together with our channel colleagues to postpone production for four weeks. We used the extra time to develop COVID-19 concepts for different production areas. Our measures are divided into on-stage and off-stage categories – or what is and isn’t visible to the audience. Behind the camera, the hygiene measures that are now part and parcel of everyday life applied – practicing social distancing, regularly washing and disinfecting our hands, wearing masks, measuring every person’s temperature on arrival on set each day, self-disclosure, as well as creating more space. That not only meant moving recreation rooms outdoors as far as possible, but also, without further ado, expanding the usually very cramped and crowded control room with an additional OB van.”
Heidi Brückl: “As far as the on-stage measures were concerned, we reviewed the situations where candidates and their mentors get ‘too close’ to each other and devised ways to change that. It wasn’t long before we reached the conclusion that restructuring the set design was unavoidable. So, for instance, we moved the candidates’ lounge into a larger audience foyer. There, they could watch the tasting process on screens instead of sitting in a gallery behind the jury as they had done in the past. This meant they were less reserved and responded more freely. Instead of a judges’ table, jury members sat at separate tables, which we set out in a semicircle. Thanks to the new arrangement, the mentors were able to see each other better and suddenly interacted much more intensively. Despite some initial skepticism, having the mentors remain behind their individual pulpits and coach their candidates from a distance also worked well.”
Heidi Brückl: “We succeeded in developing several new contest concepts that are not only ‘Corona-safe’ but also a step forward in terms of content and dramaturgy. A lot of this we felt was so good that we will stick with it in the future. COVID-19 is responsible for triggering what is sometimes a very radical reinvention process in the first place. Yet it must be said that ongoing development is the Redseven philosophy behind our long-running hits such as ‘The Taste,’ ‘Hochzeit auf den ersten Blick’ (Married At First Sight) and ‘The Biggest Loser.’ We strive to never rest on our laurels. I think it’s important not to ‘glorify’ the production too much after the fact because it was a stressful time for the entire team. For weeks on end, we worked under unrelenting pressure and it was a tough call to really connect with everyone’s faces covered by masks and face visors. In the end, we got it all done – mainly because every single person in front of and behind the camera came ready to give of their best with each new day.”
Henning Kruse: “The huge additional input and obstacles the pandemic caused during this production simply cannot be underestimated. As soon as we solved one problem, another one popped up somewhere else. After rebuilding the set, for instance, we realized we were going to need a lot more cameras. SAT.1 was always ready to lend an ear and did their utmost to make everything happen. All decisions were made based on a broad consensus because everyone knew how serious the situation was. Such close, constructive teamwork is truly invaluable. To that extent, the production process gave new meaning to the expression ‘rising to the occasion’ and our team grew stronger for it. And the results are a testimony to that: Despite challenging conditions, we pulled together to take the eighth season of ‘The Taste’ to a whole new level by delivering top-notch entertainment.”
Tobias Gramann: “The production was tough going for all of us, but we also gained an incredible amount of valuable experience. Some of the benefits we are still seeing today. Naturally, we have now refined our catalog of measures and are adapting them depending on the production and the general state of the pandemic. It goes without saying that Corona-related changes can’t always be as successfully incorporated into the narrative as on ‘The Taste.’ Our takeaway from this time is that with team spirit, creativity and above all a great deal of flexibility, we can keep TV productions going during a pandemic. And in the process, create shows that delight our viewers.”