2020 in Review: Reel Chicago’s Biggest Stories

BYE-BYE 2020

What a year, huh? 2020, which felt like a decade, will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the worst years ever. And who will argue? Certainly not the staff at Reel Chicago.

This year, COVID forced productions to shut down. Then start back up. Then shut back down. Then start back up. It was like we were living the pandemic version of Groundhog Day. And then we actually were, when Highdive and Bill Murray brought us back to the classic comedy for an Emmy-nominated Super Bowl spot for Jeep.

In March, Chicago’s production community faced challenges that no one six months earlier could have foreseen. Working from home became The New Normal. TV shows such as Dick Wolf’s #OneChicago were forced to shut down production early. Cinespace became a ghost town. Even the Empire series, which called Chicago home for six seasons, didn’t get to finish properly. But it did earn high ratings.

The Chicago International Film Festival went virtual. AICP Midwest Show went ZOOM. And we were there to cover every virtual moment during this rollercoaster of a year.

And hey, we didn’t once talk about Jussie Smollett! But Mayor Lightfoot did tell President Trump to…

We adapted to cover local advertising and production news in a year where COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the election dominated Chicago’s headlines.

What we found was that Chicago’s ad agencies, post-houses and production companies still had amazing stories to tell. We covered how they adapted by creating the new categories, The New Normal and Production Central. We also realized our readers wanted more City News, so we added that category as well.

Whatever we covered in the 2500 or so stories we published in 2020, we tried to give you a complete view of how our local ad agencies, TV stations and production companies were responding, functioning and flourishing in a pandemic. And we also gave the community a place to connect.

Our efforts were rewarded with over a million views on the Reel this year.

Here are some of the more popular stories from 2020:

REEL Chicago’s Top 20 stories for 2020

20. Alex Pissios talks future of Chicago production

In May, Reel 360 Editor Colin Costello sat down with Alexander Pissios, President of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios to discuss future Chicago production during COVID.

19. Chicagoan Stefan Holt returns to anchor NBC 5 News

In August, Stefan Holt, son of NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, relocated to the Chicago area with his family to anchor NBC 5 News at 4pm and 10pm on weekdays.

18. Pam Zekman among those laid off at WBBM CBS-2

In May, The economic impact of Covid-19 hit WBBM CBS-2 in a big way. After 39 years of delivering award-winning investigative stories, iconic Pam Zekman was laid off. Zekman shared two Pulitzer prizes for her work at the Chicago Tribune,  and the Sun-Times.

17. A message from the cast of Dick Wolf’s #OneChicago


The cast of Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago PD made a PSA video about staying home during COVID. Did it work? We have no idea, but our readers read about it.

16. Showtime releases trailer for ‘THE CHI’ Season three

In less than two minutes, the trailer for THE CHI season three showcased Chicago as one of the most dazzling, diverse, and passionate cities on earth. Our readers couldn’t wait to become viewers of the popular series from Chicago’s Lena Waithe.

16. Showtime releases trailer for ‘THE CHI’ Season three

Shameless was seen filming in and around Chicago for some pickup shots for its final and 11th season. A small crew filmed exterior drone shots of the infamous Gallagher house for VFX plates.

14. Mayor Lightfoot has two words for Trump – “F U”

During a press conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot lashed out at President Donald Trump. The Mayor, who is never one to hold back said, “I will code what I really want to say to Donald Trump. It’s two words. It begins with F and it ends with U.”

13. Chicago P.D. starts up and filmed on location last week

In October, Chicago P.D. was up and running for Season 8 at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios and on location in a Chicago neighborhood.

12. Lizzo covers ‘All Together Now’ in first Messenger spot

Our friends at Leo Burnett came hard with their first work for Facebook Messenger in this Reel Ad of the Week. Directed by Michel Gondry it featured a Beatles cover by Lizzo.

ALSO READ REEL 360: 2020 in Review: The Biggest Stories of the Year

11. Chicago film community mourns loss of Andrew Biesen

Andrew Biesen

2020 took too many friends from us, especially someone as wonderful and influential as filmmaker Andrew Beisen. Our readers, as well as the Reel Chicago family, sent our love to his family.

10. Chicago PD, Fire, and Med now streaming on Peacock


Viewers in Chicago got really excited when NBC announced all 1,500 episodes of Wolf Entertainment programming would be available on streaming service, Peacock.

9. Chicago P.D., The Chi, Director & Producer dies

David Rodriguez, a director and producer for series such as TNT’s Animal Kingdom, Showtime’s The Chi and NBC’s Chicago P.D., died of a stroke.

8. Kerrygold embraces family moments in new Xmas spot

November saw Energy BBDO’s Kerrygold butter spot celebrate people coming together and enjoying small moments over a home-cooked meal. Our readers celebrated the creativity.

7. Dog vs Snowman in Greenies campaign by adam&eveDDB

Our readers really responded to the story of a little boy putting the finishing touches on his snowman, before his dog playfully pulls its arm off in this Greenies campaign.

6. NBC 5 Chicago announces new anchor desk lineup

In July, WMAQ-TV announced a series of changes behind the anchor desk at NBC Tower. Michelle Relerford  joined Zoraida Sambolin as anchor weekdays on NBC 5 News Today

5. Susan Carlson leaves NBC-5 to focus on family

Reel 360 editor Colin Costello’s news crush, Susan Carlson, who was a part of local Chicago news for 29 years, decided to follow her passion to become a voice-over and audiobook narrator.

4. Ogilvy, Optimus want us to “Stand By Our Mail”

In our Reel Ad of the Week, USPS got some defense from grassroots organization Stand By Your Mail. This moving spot came from Ogilvy, Chicago and Optimus.

3. Lightning strikes Trump Tower before debate

Right before his debate with then Presidential candidate Joe Biden, Trump Tower was struck by what appeared to be three simultaneous bolts of lightning.

2. McDonald’s celebrates 10th anniversary of the Minions


We had no idea about our readers’ love for Minions. But in 2020, we found out when McDonald’s celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Minions, with a new Happy Meal AR experience.

1. Chicago PD, Fire & Med return to production in September

Our readers were overjoyed when our sources said that pre-production on Chicago P.D. had actually begun and production personnel returned in September.

We don’t know what surprises 2021 has in store. Who knew what 2020 would bring us. But you can be sure we’ll be there relaying the information to you. Seven days a week.

Have the happiest of New Years from The Reel Chicago team. Wear a mask.

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Contact Colin Costello at colin@reel360.com