The coronavirus pandemic has created a number of hurdles for the TV industry after productions everywhere temporarily closed down in March to help slow the spread. Since then, networks and studios have tried their best to adopt, which have resulted in remote-produced shows and script-readings. One Day at a Time is not exempt from these circumstances, and as co-creator Mike Royce joked at a virtual panel discussion at the ATX Television Festival over the weekend, "we will solve all this with cartoons."
Royce went on to talk about one episode from the show's fourth season, which airs on Pop TV, has since been retooled as an animated special. "We got to shoot six episodes before we go shut down, and we had an episode we were very excited about, written already, about the difficulty of talking to your relatives you think differently than you," Royce continued in a more serious tone. He went on to say that the idea came from co-creator Gloria Calderon Kellett, who he described as a "pretty liberal" Cuban-American with very conservative relatives. "We got talking about that in the writer's room, and we were really excited about it, with the election coming up, about how that might go."
"Of course, now we’re just all talking about politics, everyone's jumping on their issues, and everyone sounds like the semi-informed Hollywood writers that we are," Royce continued. "But we didn't want to do a sitcom version of Crossfire. It couldn't be conservative vs. liberal, because you see that every night on shows that are funnier than us. So, what we realized what the story should be about is the discussion about how to talk about it because there are so many different approaches."
Initially, the episode was intended to be live-action, which Royce said would "pop to all these fantasy sequences" where different approaches are tried out. "At first trying to avoid the issue. Then, what if we're just polite?" Given the already-complicated logistics of the script, they knew they wouldn't be able to film it in front of a live studio audience. Then, Kellett suggested animation, and they teamed up with Canadian animation studio. Smiley Guy in Canada, who Royce says made it a reality in about eight weeks.
"I saw the almost-final cut yesterday," Royce said, which was "born of the pandemic." He went on to praise the work everyone put into the episode at such a frantic pace, adding that "it's come together really nice."