“We are temporarily going audience-free for our live shows and have re-focused our route on The Amazing Race to domestic destinations around Australia.
“This is an ongoing situation that we are continuing to monitor closely with all of our production partners, across all of our shows.”
Nine’s Australian Ninja Warrior will also institute an audience lock-out, with only family members of contestants allowed to attend the remaining episodes. A network spokesperson said that would mean a crowd of “tens rather than hundreds” as the series enters its final phase.
The Voice is, for now, unaffected, with the most recent episode having been shot two weeks ago and the next one not due to shoot for around a month.
The coaches are back home, and Nine (which publishes this masthead) is praying time is on its side, with flexibility to move production of these episodes closer to the live finals in the middle of the year if the need should arise.
Nine has also announced it will cover NRL from the studio rather than from the ground. It has also decreed that production crew work in pods – in small teams dedicated to a single show – rather than across a pool in order to increase the chances of resilience and to restrict the spread of COVID-19.
A spokesperson for Seven said its productions are “largely on track at this stage, although a number of adjustments have already been made as you’d expect.
“Australia’s Got Talent is now proceeding without a live audience while on Sunrise, with the exception of a small number of regulars who will be in studio, all guests will be remote.
“Like everyone, we are monitoring the situation closely, continually evaluating, and will adapt as things evolve.”
The ABC will film forthcoming episodes of Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell, which is about halfway through its run, without a live audience. It has also suspended all public and school tours to its facilities until further notice.
More challenging is the decision to film Q&A behind closed doors from Monday, since audience participation is one of the defining elements of the weekly current affairs show.
“We’re following all the advice and will have a significantly restricted studio set-up on Monday, and will additionally take questions via video and some live from households,” a spokesperson for the ABC said on Sunday. “We know your questions are more important than ever, so please keep them coming via the website.”
The public health crisis could have a major impact on the Australian production industry, which is currently in the midst of a boom with most states hosting film, television and streaming projects and studios at or close to capacity.
To date, only the two big Hollywood studio-backed movies have been affected, but news from the US overnight that a long list of productions are now in shutdown due to the virus suggests it is only a matter of time before Australia is similarly hit.
Though the industry is substantial, with about 30,000 full-time-equivalent jobs and $3 billion of activity annually, it is also fragile, said Screen Producers Australia chief executive Matthew Deaner.
“There is limited ongoing security, it’s a gig-based model for both businesses and the workforce,” he said. “Productions employ thousands in teams, and actors and crews need to be with each other to work. There is no remote opportunity for employment on physical production.”
He warned that if a single person on a production contracts the virus, “this may mean an automatic stand down of the production for at least two weeks. This could be repeated endlessly, resulting in the termination of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of work”.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union that represents cast and crew in the entertainment industries, similarly warned of the potential for enormous disruption.
In a statement issued on Friday, the MEAA warned “the capacity of this virus to incapacitate whole sectors is perhaps unrivalled”.
The entertainment and media industries were particularly vulnerable, the union noted, because “many workers are already working at the economic margins as a result of intermittent work and relatively low levels of income security”.
The union echoed the producers in calling on governments “to ensure the continuing health of our sector in these difficult times”.
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.