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“Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” on NBC
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for what we have and to celebrate that by indulging in a calorie-fest that could feed an entire third world nation. On a normal year that would be followed by various attempts to avoid your out-of-town relatives by either pretending to nap or feigning interest in a Detroit Lions football game. This year, however—with COVID lockdowns firmly in place—few of us will be faced with the specter of distant relatives and weird in-laws. Silver linings.
But that still leaves us with the same old conundrum: How to while away the hours of Nov. 26 that do not actively involve eating. As always, TV has the answer.
Traditionally, the day begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade has been a New York institution since 1924. It was first telecast in an experimental broadcast in 1939, and it’s typically seen by some 44 million viewers annually. There are few people in America who didn’t grow up watching the parade in their pajamas. And despite everything that’s happening this year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will go on as scheduled. But it’s not gonna look quite the same.
While drawing fewer crowds to the streets of Manhattan than the annual Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball Drop (we’ll deal with that particular pickle in a month or so), the Thanksgiving Day Parade still pulls about three and a half million spectators to line the two and a half miles of parade route. It’s hard to social distance two and a half million people—so, like our professional football games—we’re gonna have to get used to seeing the parade sans audience. “For New Yorkers who typically see it live and in person,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “this change, for them, is that they are going to experience it the same way the rest of the country experiences it.”
Though Tercero went on to promise that the parade itself wouldn’t be “too different” for the TV audience, there are still more alterations in store. With no one to line the streets, there’s not much point in actually “parading” block after block. So the majority of the action this year will be centered on Herald Square (directly in front of Macy’s, of course).
Normally, the parade takes between 8,000 and 10,000 participants and performers to pull off. In 2020 that number has shrunk to less than 2,000. And none of the participants will be under age 21. That means all of the high school and college marching bands typically used to fill space between balloons are cut (a shame or a relief, depending on your musical taste for trumpet-and-bass-drum versions of Coldplay songs). Meanwhile, the large character balloons—pretty much the reason for the parade—will be towed through Herald Square by a fleet of specially rigged vehicles. Also, a number of segments will be pre-recorded—most likely the ones involving musical guests. But, hey, we still get guests. Country icon Dolly Parton, soul legend Patti LaBelle, “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks (2007 callback!) and Hamilton Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. are among the event’s scheduled performers. Another highlight, of course, is the string of song-and-dance numbers culled from current Broadway musicals. Thanks to COVD, Broadway has been shut down since March. Nonetheless, the casts of Hamilton, Jagged Little Pill, Ain’t Too Proud and Mean Girls will come out of involuntary retirement to perform—making this the only change in 2020 to see a Broadway musical.
Like an awful lot of things in 2020, this year’s Thanksgiving Day Parade won’t be normal. But it is the new normal. [ ]