The BBC could put actors and directors in quarantine and remove the studio audience from Strictly Come Dancing under plans to help restart television production after the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the industry.
The proposals, which could affect everything from EastEnders to light entertainment and high-end dramas, are being considered as broadcasters face up to the prospect of enormous gaps in their schedules after much of British television production was stopped dead in mid-March.
Piers Wenger, head of BBC drama commissioning, told a virtual session of the Edinburgh television festival that he was desperate to restart filming of scripted shows. One option is “quarantining actors and crew in order to allow actors to interact in the same space”.
He accepted that asking high-profile stars to spend even longer on set would add a substantial amount to the cost of making a programme but suggested it could be one of the only ways to get new shows made if social distancing rules are in place for the rest of the year.
One option for Strictly Come Dancing, a highlight of the BBC’s autumn schedule, is to hold it without an audience and put the participants in long-term isolation together while the show is on air.
Programmes such as EastEnders are still relying on footage shot before the lockdown. Half the number of episodes a week are being shown in order to avoid it being forced off air.
Wenger said the BBC was also looking at ways to film new episodes while observing social distancing rules by looking to the Australian television industry: “There are ways of cheating, actors being close enough together to act in a scene. Neighbours are experimenting with different ways of shooting while social distancing is in place.”
Charlotte Moore, BBC director of content, also said that audiences were tiring of programmes that look like they were filmed on videoconference calls and are instead yearning for more substantive and slick programmes.
“We’re very keen not everything is made on Zoom,” she said. “At the moment people are enjoying ‘we’re all in it together’ and seeing inside everyone’s house … But there’s also a massive appetite for all the massive flashy shows.”
There are also serious headaches about how to deal with shows such as Line of Duty, which were mid-way through filming a new series when the lockdown was imposed, especially given high-profile actors and directors can have their schedules booked years in advance. There is the possibility that some programmes are abandoned altogether if it is not possible to get the same cast and production team back together.
Moore is having to deal with the absence of major sporting and cultural events this summer, along with delays to new series of programmes such as The Apprentice, Top Gear, and Dragons’ Den. She said the crisis was likely to force the BBC to rely even more on programmes produced domestically: “There’s going to be a greater need for British stories from all over Britain, because we’re not going to be able to go abroad as much, so we will be looking for stories all over the UK. That will really be a focus, that’s where we’ll be able to make shows.”
News from The Guardian