How 'Bull' Will Address the Coronavirus Pandemic in Season 5 (VIDEO)
To incorporate the pandemic or to not incorporate the pandemic? That is the question producers have had to ask themselves as they've (literally) geared up to begin filming their new seasons. For Glenn Gordon Caron, executive producer of CBS's Bull — which returns later this fall with a Season 5 premiere titled "My Corona" — the answer changed over time.
"Truthfully, when we first shut down, I naively thought, 'Well, this is going to be over in May.' My initial plan was not to acknowledge it. People tune in to see this legal drama about Jason Bull and the people who work for him, and it just felt not on point," he says. "But as it continued on, and on, and on, and became a part of the fabric of everyone's life — and taking into account that our show is set and actually filmed in New York City — I thought it was irresponsible. But also I thought, 'There's something really interesting going on here.' And people are going to look back in 20, 30 years, and they're going to go, 'That was a fascinating moment.' And to ignore the moment seemed like a missed opportunity."
The premiere, he says, will begin on the day in March when Trial Analysis Corporation (TAC) closed its doors due to the virus and end with the team, led by Dr. Jason Bull (Michael Weatherly), returning to work. "While the shutdown weighs heavily on everyone at TAC, this particular episode is seen almost completely through the eyes of Bull," he adds. It was a running theme earlier in the series that Bull doesn't do well on his own, so it's good that he has his on-again ex-wife Izzy (Yara Martinez, now a series regular) and baby Astrid at home as, Caron says, "the city — and for that matter, day-to-day life — is changing all around him."
Like most TV fans, Weatherly is curious about the choice shows will make at this fork in the road. His niece Alexandra Breckenridge is the lead on Netflix's Virgin River, and, he says, when he recently asked her if they were planning to play Covid in their world, "She said, 'Michael, no, this is a fantasy romance story that takes place in Virgin River. So people are gonna wanna unplug and tune in to escape the world of masks and project themselves into that alternate reality.'"
Although Bull will show characters wearing masks when their characters would in real life — even past the premiere — Weatherly is quick to add, "This isn't a show that's gonna make you feel like it's about coronavirus; it's gonna make you smile and laugh and think, 'Oh, my God, what a crazy time.'"
For the series' writers, it's been challenging but also reinvigorating. "It forces you, as a creative person, to start thinking again. Start imagining," Caron says, noting that they've had to rethink how they stage courtroom scenes (jurors socially-distanced, no public in the gallery, no leaning over to whisper in each other's ears) and where to set out-of-office conversations when people aren't going to restaurants. (Don't worry, we'll still take those car rides with Bull and Freddy Rodriguez's Benny: “Yeah, we have to! I think Benny and Bull are in a pod," Weatherly says.)
Geneva Carr, who plays TAC's neurolinguistics expert Marissa Morgan, describes Bull’s approach to the season as hopeful: "We embrace what we've gone through, but it's about the next step we're taking," she says. "To me, it was giving me tools of how I move forward, and I'm really grateful for that." How did Marissa, who'll be going through a divorce in Season 5, handle the shutdown? "It's funny you ask that, because here I am sitting with a cat on my lap," she says. "We had a Zoom meeting the other day [ahead of Sept. 25's return to production], and it was interesting to see everybody in their houses and how we really are the people we play. You saw my white piano that I don't even know how to play, and two cats going in front of the screen while I'm talking. Michael and I talked that night, and he said that he and Glen had said, 'Geneva is Marissa.'"
By the second episode, TAC's experts are back in action—and somehow end up arguing both sides of a case. Chunk (Christopher Jackson), who’s graduated from law school and passed the bar since we last saw him, faces off with seasoned bulldog attorney Benny in court. Weatherly, who also directs that hour, teases the showdown in the video interview above.
Bull, Season 5 Premiere, Fall 2020, CBS