How New Years Eve Specials Adapted to the Pandemic

Despite this year’s best efforts, 2020 will in fact still end at midnight on Dec. 31.

To mark the occasion, multiple broadcast networks are still planning to hold their annual New Years Eve specials on Thursday night as the ball drops over Times Square in New York City. But like everything else this year, those specials will see a few changes from their normal operations.

As in years past, the specials will feature some pre-taped performances as well as multiple locations from which they will broadcast, such as New York, Los Angeles, and New Orleans.

The most noticeable change will be the crowd in Times Square. Whereas the iconic New York location has held upwards of one million people in past years, this year there will only be about 150 invited guests in attendance. They are being called “The Heroes of 2020” and will be made up of front line workers, first responders, and their families. They will be wearing masks during the show and will be required to undergo COVID testing before entering the area.

“That will give our hosts — Ryan, Lucy, and Billy — a chance to talk to them about the year that they’ve had, how they’ve coped with being a frontline worker, and how that’s affected their families,” said Mark Bracco, executive producer of “Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve” on ABC.

According to fellow “New Years Rockin’ Eve” executive producer Linda Gierahn, the production has changed multiple aspects of the production as well in order to ensure that safety remains the top priority for this year’s show.

“We’ve had to adjust schedules, adjust locations of where people are at, follow all of our protocols on social distancing, COVID testing, PPE, everything that goes along with that,” Gierahn said. “Part of that is a daily health screening, temperature checks, and just making sure that the crew goes through that whole process before they get into our secure perimeter.”

The annual ABC show, now in its 49th year, will see Ryan Seacrest, Lucy Hale, and Billy Porter live in Times Square. Performances on that show will include a headline performance by Jennifer Lopez as well as others by Porter, Brandy, Doja Cat, and more. President elect Joe Biden will also appear alongside his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. The show will begin airing on ABC at 8 p.m. ET.

On NBC, host Caron Daly will be joined by co-hosts Amber Ruffin of Peacock’s “The Amber Ruffin Show” and Stephen “tWitch” Boss, DJ and co-executive producer for the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.”  Daly and Ruffin will be hosting the show from the Renaissance Hotel at 48th and 7th. Boss will be on the street with the socially distanced crowds of first responders. Musical performances include AJR, Busta Rhymes, Chloe x Halle, and Bebe Rexha. It will feature taped packages from both news and comedy stars.

On Fox, Ken Jeong and Joel McHale will host what the network has dubbed the “New Year’s Eve Toast & Roast 2021.” Executive producer Carol Donovan tells Variety that their production has engaged several new levels of safety protocols, including “fogging of the spaces at night” and a “UV fan system to circulate air” on top of new training methods and regular testing.

“There’s this whole other layer all about keeping people safe,” Donovan said. “That’s something that’s brand new and hasn’t been a part of TV production before and now it is and I think honestly everybody approaches it very positively because everyone’s really happy to be working and happy to be creating content, which we love.”

LeAnn Rimes, recent winner of “The Masked Singer,” will perform on the Fox special along with artists like Gloria Estefan, John Legend, Ava Max, and Green Day. Fox stars Mayim Bialik and Cheyenne Jackson will also appear along with Jane Krakowski, Randy Jackson, and Tim Allen. Part one will air beginning at 8 p.m. with part two beginning at 11 p.m.

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