Coronavirus sacks “Jeopardy”, “Wheel” live studio audiences

Decision made after epidemic spreads across globe; Chicago film studio also affected

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. on March 10. 

The coronavirus epidemic has affected sporting events, large gatherings, canceled trade shows (including four at McCormick Place) and other places around the world. Now, it is affecting tapings of television shows.

Late Monday evening, the producers of both Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune decided to forego studio audiences for the time being, according to a report obtained by TMZ. The change takes place immediately; both shows are scheduled to tape until mid-April.

Jeopardy and Wheel are produced by Sony Pictures Television and tape at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, Calif. and syndicated by CBS Television Distribution. Both air locally on ABC-owned WLS-TV.

The news comes as the coronavirus epidemic continue to spread. Also Monday, California’s Santa Clara County announced it is banning gatherings with a thousand or more people indefinitely, likely forcing the move of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and an NCAA Women’s Tournament out of Stanford. Italy has suspended all sporting events as a precaution.

Game shows taping without audiences isn’t new; Program Partners’ (now PPI Releasing) Merv Griffin’s Crosswords taped without a studio audience, adding canned applause in post-production (Merv Griffin also created Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.) Crosswords wasn’t a success, airing only during the 2007-08 season.

The decision to bar studio audiences is being done as a precaution as Jeopardy host Alex Trebex is still recovering from stage four pancreatic cancer and his immune system is already compromised.

Both game shows are the first television programs to be directly affected by the coronavirus epidemic – and this could only be the beginning as more shows could follow suit. Unlike most prime-time shows (except for a handful of sitcoms and some reality-competition shows), many programs outside of the daypart tape in front of studio audiences, mainly syndicated daytime and late-night talk shows. For example, freshman talkers Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall depend on studio audiences as they interact with them and are essentially part of the show. While Los Angeles County has only twenty confirmed cases as of this writing, New York City (where Hall, Live With Kelly and Ryan, The Daily Show, and late-night talkers Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert tape) have more than one hundred confirmed cases.

Back in Chicago meanwhile, four more cases of coronavirus popped up Monday evening, bringing the state’s total to nineteen as of Tuesday afternoon – forcing Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker to issue a disaster declaration. One of those who tested positive for coronavirus is employed at the Cinespace Studios on the city’s West Side, as reported by WGN-TV Monday evening. The worker in question was an employee of an upcoming Fox show called “Next”.

“Due to confirmation from FOX Executives that there is one confirmed case (and possibly more) of the coronavirus on the TV show Next,” an email sent out to employees Monday.

Fox and Cinespace officials were not available for comment. Last week, Robert Feder reported four people from WLS-TV were exposed to the coronavirus after a photographer and reporter visited a facility in Arlington Heights where a patient was being treated. The four were quarantined.

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