British television production went on an indefinite hiatus in the middle of March as the United Kingdom went into lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. The UK is set reevaluate its lockdown measures by May 7, but the production suspension has the BBC worried about an eventual lack of new programming. Should the production of television shows continue to be suspended, the BBC will face giant programming gaps that it might not be able to afford.
During a virtual discussion at the Edinburgh Television Festival, BBC head of drama commissioning Piers Wenger said the company is considering a drastic idea to get television production up and running by quarantining entire casts and crews together (via The Guardian). Wenger said crew quarantines would allow “actors to interact in the same space” without the health risks of members coming and going from set.
The Guardian reports: “Wenger accepted that asking high-profile stars to spend even longer on set would add a substantial amount to the cost of making a program 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.”
A BBC representative shared a quote from Wenger from the Edinburgh YouTube session with IndieWire: “If social distancing continues for a year, we are definitely going to want to start making new drama in that time. Are we going to look at quarantining actors and crew in order to allow actors to interact in the same space? Who knows.”
The BBC is also looking at ways new television episodes can be filmed while adhering to social distancing rules. “There are ways of cheating, actors being close enough together to act in a scene,” Wenger said, noting the Australian television series “Neighbours” has been “experimenting with different ways of shooting while social distancing is in place.”
Charlotte Moore, BBC director of content, said a shift to programs made on Zoom and video conference calls won’t be a solution to the problem as viewers are “yearning for more substantive and slick programs.” The executive said, “We’re very keen not everything is made on Zoom. 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.”
The BBC has already reduced the number of episodes airing weekly for certain programs so that they can be saved and spread out over a longer period of time to fill expected programming gaps. Such is the case with the hit show “EastEnders.”