Out of an abundance of caution, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy will tape shows without a live audience due to the continued spread of COVID-19. The two are the most popular of the game shows on television, each with over 9 million viewers. Both shows tape in a studio in Culver City, California.
Both of them film well in advance so the viewing audience will not notice a difference right away. This was the latest of the announcements coming from the entertainment industry as adjustments are being made to control unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus. Last week, CBS announced that The Amazing Race – a reality-style show with contestants literally racing around the world for a prize of $1 million – has suspended production.
In the case of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, the decision is likely a nod to the game show hosts. Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, 79 years old, is battling pancreatic cancer. In November, Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, 73 years old, underwent emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage in November. Even the lovely Vanna White is 63 years old. I know. Can you believe she is that age? All three are in the age group that is more susceptible – the over 60 age group – and Trebek’s cancer fight weakens his immune system.
The trend is to limit audiences or to do away with them for the immediate future as the COVID-19 epidemic spreads. You would think that people would not be going out to movies, for example, but apparently that is not the case. Cineworld, the world’s second-largest theater chain, says it hasn’t noticed a drop in ticket sales so far.
“Thus far, we have not observed any material impact on our movie theatre admissions due to COVID-19,” it said in a statement Friday morning, “We continue to see good levels of admissions in all our territories, despite the reported spread of COVID-19.”
Ushers in movie theatres are wearing latex gloves and museums are making hand sanitizer available for its patrons. Anyone currently having problems with a cough or sneezing is asked to change their ticket for another performance. The entertainment industry is heavily unionized and worker protections come into play both in the U.S. and overseas.
Labor tensions are possible, too. Unions say they will work to ensure their members have protections on the job and are paid even if they cannot work. In Paris, the Louvre closed for more than two days for negotiations between workers and officials. One agreement to come out of the talks is that guards will no longer have to circulate in the packed room where the Mona Lisa hangs.
“Everyone is exploring what to do if things get worse,” said Jennifer Bielstein, the president of the League of Resident Theaters, a national organization.
Most institutions are familiar with what happens if a storm or strike interrupts their operations, but a viral epidemic is new territory. Jan Newcomb, the executive director of the National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response, has advised organizations on how to survive hurricanes, tornadoes and fires, but never an epidemic.
That means many museums, theaters, music venues and dance companies are having to educate themselves on what a viral outbreak will mean for their businesses. Do their insurance policies cover infectious diseases? If performances are canceled, will artists be paid? For how long?
Special precautions are being taken by performers, too. For example, the Metropolitan Opera in New York employs visiting artists from Italy. Last week they were asked to isolate themselves.
For the Metropolitan Opera — which relies heavily on singers, directors and other artists who live and work around the world — the coronavirus crisis poses special challenges. The company issued new guidelines this week telling both employees and visiting artists who have recently been to a country flagged for coronavirus outbreaks by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to come to work at the Met for 14 days. That includes people who visited Italy, an opera capital. (On Thursday, the city asked all New Yorkers who had been to those countries to isolate themselves.)
Broadway producers are “cautiously optimistic” that attendance numbers will not slump.
Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League trade organization representing producers and theater owners, said in a conference call with reporters this afternoon that she was “even a bit surprised” with today’s box office figures indicating an increase in total Broadway attendance last week over the previous week.
“I look very carefully at the year over year” figures, St. Martin said, “and history says last week and the week before are two of the traditionally worst weeks we have every year” partially due to winter weather and families gearing up for spring break. She indicated last week’s figures were encouraging, “but we know it could possibly not be [like] this every week.”
Just imagine paying the high ticket prices of a Broadway show and sitting next to someone who is coughing or sneezing next to you. People schedule vacations to New York City around Broadway show tickets. COVID-19 is changing our everyday lives in all kinds of ways. Broadway theatres are boosting hygiene practices with extra scrubbings and sanitizing, as are movie theatres.
Some sports leagues are playing games without spectators. Even the NBA is bracing its players for the possibility of playing without fans present. Most locker rooms and clubhouses are now off-limits to the press and media. Special areas are being designated outside of the locker rooms. The social distancing between media and players is being enforced – a six foot distance is the guideline being followed. All sporting events in Italy (an entire country currently in lockdown) are canceled until at least April 3. The suspension includes everything from professional teams to local recreational teams.
COVID-19 is changing how we live our lives, which in some cases may not be a bad thing. Shouldn’t everyone be washing their hands and taking care of sanitizing their own environments on a regular basis anyway? Avoiding large crowds until the coronavirus wanes isn’t too much to ask for those most susceptible to becoming ill. Mostly, all of this boils down to practicing common sense. Economic repercussions do not need to be exaggerated and media reporting on the virus should take a breath and stop fearmongering. There is a ghoulish hope among many on the left that COVID-19 will be “Trump’s Katrina” and bring on a recession. The economy is taking a hit, that can’t be denied, but to cheer it on in some circles just to affect Trump’s re-election in November is wrong. So far the entertainment industry is finding ways to deal with it.