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Virtually produced episode of 'All Rise' airs at 9 p.m. on CBS

Various online technology allowed "All Rise" to become the first scripted series to return to production following Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at- home order.
Credit: CBS

LOS ANGELES — A virtually produced episode of the CBS courtroom drama "All Rise" dealing with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the criminal justice system will air at 9 p.m. Monday.

Various online technology allowed "All Rise" to become the first scripted series to return to production following Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at- home order issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(A reunion of the 2009-15 comedy "Parks and Recreation" that aired Thursday on NBC was network television's first scripted program addressing the pandemic).

The stay-at-home order went into effect March 19 as editing was being completed on the 20th "All Rise" episode of the season.

"We loved the episode, but it didn't quite feel like the exact way to end the season," executive producer Len Goldstein said in an online video conference call with reporters.

A series dealing with the justice system gives its producers the opportunity to tell stories about contemporary issues "and what was more contemporary than this?" Goldstein said.

The producers also wanted to tell stories about how the lives of the characters were affected by the outbreak.

"We all began to think is there a technological way that we can tell this story and not use the technology just as a gimmick but to have a real season finale?" Goldstein said.

Series creator Greg Spottiswood and writer Gregory Nelson "had a great idea for a story for which to do that" and director and executive producer Michael M. Robin "had an idea" how it could be made, Goldstein said.

The discussions Robin had been engaged in with colleagues about editing the 20th episode of the season over the Zoom conferencing application led him to believe he could use it to record individual boxes and combine the results for scenes.

The episode is centered around Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) as she presides over a virtual bench trial involving a dispute between brothers (Mo McRae and Edwin Hodge) and a stolen car.

Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, a consulting producer on "All Rise," provided insight into how the justice system is functioning locally during the pandemic.

Los Angeles County courtrooms have been closed since March 17 except for those handling time-sensitive, essential functions and are scheduled to remain closed through at least May 12.

A "Video Appearance Project" for arraignments in 32 courtrooms in 17 courthouses to promote social distancing in the nation's largest trial court was announced April 21.

Remote appearances in criminal cases are limited to arraignments, Mary Eckhardt Hearn, the public information officer for the Los Angeles County Superior Court, told City News Service.

Remote appearance technology has been used in civil, family law and probate cases "for some time, although not for trials," Hearn said.

The "All Rise" episode was shot using the video conferencing platform Webex. A private network was created and phone numbers and call times were given to the actors for their respective scenes.

Ethernet cables and Wi-Fi boosters "that had all been heavily sanitized" were sent to the cast members "to be sure whatever internet connection we had would be as strong as possible," Missick said.

However, some scenes were shot using cellphones because at times they had better connectivity than computers, Missick said.

Scenes were shot in each cast member's home, creating additional responsibilities for them.

"Every day ... it was OK let me set up these lights and move this furniture and set up the props and get myself in costume and do my hair and makeup ... before it's time to actually film," Missick said.

The technical aspects took about 30 minutes before rehearsals began, she said.

Missick said she also had to be a "location scout," going around her house with a computer, showing Robin, who directed the episode, and the producers how her house could be used for various sets for the episode. Visual effects were used to create the necessary backgrounds.

Missick said she converted a portion of her dining room to serve as the courtroom and another portion to be Carmichael's home office.

"Simone did an amazing job re-creating spaces," Robin said.

The feed was seen by various people working on the show. Missick said she would receive text messages from the costume designer to fix her shirt in the middle of rehearsal "to make sure" it was on properly for filming.

Because Missick does not dress like her character, "our costume designer had to quickly find some things to get over to me," she said.

"There was that moment of how long was it in transit, which fabrics are OK, should I stick it in the dryer, should I spray it with Lysol, how can you send this back?" Missick said. "There was the very real concern that I think we all have with getting boxes and unpackaging things.

"She said, `Baby, I don't want you to feel scared to do a wardrobe fitting so you can take your time and we will figure it out.' There was a lot of Googling to make sure what fabrics could carry the virus and how long."

The specific makeup regularly used by some actors was "sanitized on the outside" and delivered to their homes while other actors declined to wear makeup, Robin said.

The 64-page script was filmed in six approximately 10-hour days, according to Robin. A typical episode has a 60-page script that is shot in 7 1/2 12-hour days, Robin said.

"It shot faster than a normal episode does, but strangely enough it was oddly more exhausting ...," Robin said.

Missick likened the experience to "a really expensive guerilla indie film." 

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