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The pandemic transformed television. A new report shows the lasting impact

Retta, left, Mae Whitman and Christina Hendricks in "Good Girls" on NBC.
Retta, left, Mae Whitman and Christina Hendricks in “Good Girls” on NBC, one of the TV shows filming in California in 2021 under its tax incentive program, according to FilmLA.
(Jordin Althaus/NBC)

California remains the top locale for television productions industrywide, but the COVID-19 pandemic heavily disrupted the pipeline of new shows, according to a new report.

The state remained the most prolific of the major production centers, hosting 97 projects in the 2021 cycle, which ended May 31, according to an annual survey of the television industry by FilmLA, the nonprofit group that coordinates film permits for the region.

However, the pandemic paused or scuttled some programs that were not renewed, leading to an ongoing shortage of programming, the report concluded.

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“Production is returning but the production pipeline logjam remains for the time being,” the report stated.

The health crisis halted an estimated 198 U.S.-based English-language TV series between mid-March and mid-June 2020. Overall, 331 series were available for viewing in 2021, down 26.8% from the previous year, the report said.

Signs of a recovery emerged in the second quarter when TV drama production rose to pre-pandemic levels, with total shoot days totaling 1,501, up 120.7% over a five-year quarterly average.

Boosted by state tax incentives, California remained the leading location across all television platforms (cable, streaming and broadcast), followed by New York, Georgia and British Columbia.

The state — home to such shows as Netflix’s “Lucifer” and “13 Reasons Why” — accounted for 27% of all streaming shows nationwide, with 41 productions. That was well ahead of Georgia and New York, which came in a distant second and third, respectively.

Among the top three filming destinations, however, California experienced the steepest year-over-year decline. The state’s total of 97 series in 2021 was down 39% from the previous year. New York fell 32%, with 41 series. Georgia tied with British Columbia, which each attracted 39 shows. B.C. dropped 19%, while Georgia remained unchanged from the prior year.

One explanation was that the Peach State resumed filming earlier than many other states. The crisis shut down production in Georgia for just two months in the spring of 2020, versus three months for Los Angeles and most other film hubs.

Amid the upheaval, streaming has remained a leading form of TV viewing.

Hollywood production has returned to pre-pandemic levels despite the spread of new COVID-19 variants.

There were 177 shows on streaming platforms from mid-2019 to mid-2020, overtaking for the first time both the number of cable shows (164) and broadcast shows (111). The trend continued in the 2021 cycle, which produced 145 streaming shows, 103 cable shows and 83 broadcast programs.

Between 2011 and 2021, the number of streaming shows grew at an average annual rate of 35.4%. That was compared with 2.2% for broadcast series; the production of cable shows actually declined by an annual rate of 1.8%, according to the report.

Over the last decade the number of broadcast shows fell from 34% of available series in 2011 to 24% in 2021; cable series had an even steeper decline, dropping from 63% to 33%. Streaming platforms saw their share of series grow to 43% in 2021, up from just 3% in 2011.


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