May 26, 2020

By Tony Hernandez
Jax Media Founder and CEO Tony Hernandez shares how 'Desus & Mero' continues to air with socially distanced hosts.

In Making it Work, creatives and decision-makers from across ViacomCBS describe how they turned an idea into a reality. In this installment, we spoke with Tony Hernandez of Jax Media, which produces several ViacomCBS programs including Desus & MeroThe Other TwoFirst Wives Club. Hernandez details how he and his team remotely produce SHOWTIME’s Desus & Mero.

The last few months have been a wild ride. It all started with an incredibly crazy two weeks. We went from business as usual, to having a show with no audience, to making a show with a downsized staff of 29 people, to making it with seven people in the studio. Then, as stay-at-home orders went into effect, we were in our homes trying to figure out a way to get to air with as little technical difficulties as possible. 

Desus & Mero is a unique show. It really hinges on the friendship between Desus Nice and The Kid Mero and their ability to play off of each other in real-time while in the same room. It was a bit of a challenge to do the show in a way that keeps their rhythm and dynamic intact. 

The engineers who run the studio operation—which normally has four or five cameras, a couple of sets, and 50 people operating the different aspects of production—set up a multiplayer Zoom that allows for screen sharing and maintains a level of high quality, so our remote show stays true to the studio version both technically and creatively. 

 

 

There’s a 15- or 20-minute tech session before we start, giving the guys time to set up their cameras and make final tweaks and adjustments. At the same time, all the writers and producers will stay on the call hanging out and catching up because we’re desperate for some human interaction. 

We’re grateful technology has allowed us to continue to create and innovate, even though we miss being in the office. I mean, we make comedy for a living, so going to work is super fun. The guys are really great, and this is one of my favorite writing rooms in the business. 

There's about 25 of us muted off-screen. Our director, Dave Drusky, hosts from his house, and writer Julia Young shows a video that walks them through a conversation. They each record separately and they upload their videos to the director, who feeds it to the editor, who then spins an hour and a half of the guys talking into a 30-minute episode.

Tony Hernandez Tony Hernandez

"If the internet goes down in Queens, there's a likely chance we won't air."

The editing process is nail-biting. The upload and download of material each day is a white-knuckle experience, which is why our IT guys are the unsung heroes of our production. But, if the internet goes down in Queens during that process, there's a likely chance we won't air. 

There’s a lot going on now that we never had to deal with before. Now, for example, two days before we film with a guest, we troubleshoot everyone’s internet speed and we walk them through camera settings. In some instances, we ordered and shipped the guest a computer that he or she would send back to us after production wrapped. But, it’s also surprising at times because the [Dr. Anthony] Faucis and [Joe] Bidens of the world do maybe six remote interviews in a single day, and they have technical teams that always make sure they’re ready to go. 

 

 

Because Mero has four kids, his set at home gets destroyed. There’s a whole reboot of his set that has to happen every night. And, we’ve definitely experienced other technical hiccups. We sent them battery-powered lights, but the batteries died halfway through some episodes. Mero's kids once unplugged his laptop while we were filming. There were times when one of their computers died because their charger was plugged into the extension cord but the extension cord wasn’t plugged into the wall. We make sure to break every 20 minutes to minimize some of that.

Going forward, I think production will have to become more efficient. Once you’ve made it with a one-person staff, the questions become ‘Do we need to go back to 150 people at all times? Is there room for flexibility with working from home?’

Zooms work, and I’ve spoken with a lot of talent across the shows I work on who are already saying, ‘I’ll never drive two and a half hours to Santa Monica for a meeting again.’

 

 As told to Kelby Clark.

 

Headshot of Tony Hernandez photographed by Eli Tawli

Header image courtesy of Greg Endries/SHOWTIME

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