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Pre-taped Detroit Thanksgiving parade was 'a little different' this year

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — If this had been a normal Thanksgiving, thousands upon thousands of Metro Detroiters would have lined Woodward Avenue for America's Thanksgiving Parade.

Instead, Thursday's spectacle wasn't one at all. It was a partially pre-taped event designed to prevent crowds from forming.

"If I told you a year ago that we'd be wearing masks to the grocery story, limiting our Thanksgiving tables, no fans in the stands at the Lions game, you would've thought it was science fiction," said WDIV-TV anchor Devin Scillian, a co-host of the parade coverage. "It's science, but not much fiction."

Outside WDIV Local 4 studio in downtown Detroit, television personalities Evrod Cassimy and Rhonda Walker host the mostly-pre-recorded America’s Thanksgiving Parade show. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's parade was reimagined as a televised-only special broadcast on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24, 2020.

Scillian and co-host Kimberly Gill hosted the show in-studio.

But 2020 is anything but normal. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, and in the spirit of safety and social distancing, the parade did not have in-person watchers this year. 

Like the Fourth of July fireworks or the Christmas tree lighting — but unlike the 2020 auto show, which was canceled altogether — the parade went on.

Thanksgiving 2020:Virtual America's Thanksgiving Parade celebrates frontline workers and children

A screen capture from WDIV's live broadcast of the virtual Thanksgiving Parade shows an empty downtown Detroit where ordinarily there would be thousands of spectators.

But it was different. In addition to the lack of spectators, this year's parade honored "frontline" workers and children.

Most of the action was pre-taped, but there was live commentary from WDIV-TV (Channel 4) anchors stationed in studio and around downtown. The preview show started early with Jason Carr and Tati Amare on a split screen, Carr broadcasting from home, and Amare from the studio.

"Thanksgiving is going to be a little different this year," Carr noted.

WDIV began its coverage of the virtual Thanksgiving parade early Thursday. Jason Carr and Tati Amare are shown on a split screen, Carr broadcasting from home, Amare from the studio.

The Parade Company, which puts on the parade and the Independence Day fireworks, urged people to not make their way downtown, telling them there would be little to see.

Parade Company President and CEO Tony Michaels told The Detroit News the original plan was to have around 800 people execute the event live from Woodward near Campus Martius, but they would have been spread out over 1¼ miles to ensure social distancing. He said there would also have been temperature checks and staggering of people so not all 800 were onsite at one time. 

That plan changed last week when Detroit's chief public health officer Denise Fair said the event did not mesh with Michigan's new restrictions banning outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people.

Michaels said the Parade Company went into a "very creative mode" after Fair's decision came through and worked with WDIV to evolve the format and move away from their plan to broadcast the floats live from Woodward. 

Instead, four new floats and a couple of holdovers were taped Saturday in front of a new backdrop, set up a few blocks from the Parade Company warehouse on Mount Elliott. The five high school marching bands were taped three weeks ago, at staggered intervals, outside Comerica Park.