BBC Planning To Ditch Audiences & Press On With Big Studio Shows During Coronavirus Crisis

Have I Got News For You
'Have I Got News For You' BBC/Hat Trick

EXCLUSIVE: The BBC is drawing up plans to persevere with some of its most famous studio shows during the coronavirus crisis — even though it will have to sacrifice a live audience to make them happen.

Deadline understands that QI, the Fremantle-produced panel show, will record this week at BBC Television Centre without an audience, while similar ambitions are in place for Hat Trick Productions show Have I Got News For You — which goes back into production next month — and Endemol Shine Group’s Would I Lie To You?.

Thought is also being given to an audience-free The Graham Norton Show, which is also set to go back into production next month. Producer So Television is confident it can book guests, even though big-name celebrities, like James Bond star Daniel Craig, have pulled out of recordings because of moving film release dates.

The BBC’s planning contrasts with what is happening in the U.S., where tentpole entertainment brands including CBS’s The Late Late Show With James Corden and NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon have suspended filming altogether as coronavirus wreaks havoc on production.

While UK television industry sources have acknowledged that recording without audiences will change the look and feel of the shows, the BBC is keen to experiment where it can be done safely for crew and talent. And the BBC is not alone in this endeavor. Live shows currently on-air, such as ITV’s Loose Women, are already adjusting to a new reality without a studio audience.

In other respects, the decision over whether to record in front of an audience is being taken out of the hands of producers by the studios themselves. Elstree Studios said on Monday that it is banning audiences after the UK government advised that people avoid social gatherings and don’t visit theatres or pubs. This will impact ITV Studios’ recording of The Voice semi-final next month, as well as Channel 4’s entertainment show The Last Leg, which is due to stage its final episode of the series on Friday.

A BBC spokeswoman said: “The BBC is following government advice on COVID-19 closely. In line with the advice concerning mass gatherings, we are reviewing plans for all BBC-produced radio and television programmes to assess the extent to which they can be filmed without an audience.

“Our independent suppliers will be undertaking similar assessments. In the event that individual BBC productions or independently produced programmes decide to proceed without an audience then the BBC will fully support that decision.”

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