WORLD NEWS

Live Audiences Are Finally Returning To UK TV Studios. This Is How It's Working.

As QI resumed filming in front of an audience on Monday, there's still hope Strictly will open the ballroom doors to the public this year.

With indoor performance spaces allowed to reopen from last week in the latest easing of the government’s coronavirus lockdown, live audiences have been returning to TV studios – but like everything else in this pandemic, they are now adapting to a “new normal”. 

The TV industry has slowly begun to awaken following a dormant period, after productions were suspended on a mass scale back in March as coronavirus tightened its grip.

While various soaps and dramas have been back filming for a short while now, with reworked storylines and clever camera trickery to help navigate social distancing, entertainment formats reliant on a studio audience have faced a tricker road back. 

However, Monday night saw the reintroduction of a live audience at London’s iconic Television Centre in White City, as QI began filming a new series in Studio 1. 

The BBC comedy panel show became one of the first shows to resume filming with an audience, but as you can imagine, things were very different in the studio to how they were in a pre-Covid world. 

A blog post on the BBC Studioworks website has revealed a series of changes and measures put in place to allow production to resume safely. 

While Studio 1 at Television Centre (nicknamed TC1) has capacity for 600 seated guests, just 40 were allowed in during Monday night’s recording, with all parties sat two metres apart from one another, at a safe distance from crew members working in the studio.

Television Centre in White City, London, pictured in 2018
Television Centre in White City, London, pictured in 2018

As well as being made to wear a mask during their visit, all audience members were also met with mandatory temperature checks with thermal cameras upon arrival, and had to sign a Covid-19 declaration and give their details to assist with the NHS Test And Trace scheme. 

Hand sanitising stations have also been installed outside Television Centre, along with barriers and markings to enforce social distancing while queuing. 

A spokesperson for BBC Studioworks – a commercial subsidiary of the BBC providing studios and post production services at Television Centre and Elstree Studios in Borehamwood – said the company was “following government guidelines to the letter” and “taking all of the necessary steps to ensure that the return of audiences to our studios is managed safely”. 

The coming weeks will see a number of other productions also return to filming with a studio audience, including a reboot of Family Fortunes fronted by new host Gino D’Acampo.

According to Applause Store – who look after audience tickets for the likes of QI, Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, Saturday Night Takeaway and Celebrity Juice – the series will begin filming at Television Centre on 2 September.

Deadline has also reported The Masked Singer will return to its studios in Bovingdon in Hertfordshire to shoot its second series over eight nights next month. 

SRO Audiences, who handle ticketing for the UK version of the hit Korean format, has stated on its website that audience members will be subject to similar rules in place at Television Centre. 

The Masked Singer UK will film in front of a live audience next month
The Masked Singer UK will film in front of a live audience next month

This includes people only sitting together if they are part of the same social bubble, and temperature checks and Test And Trace forms to be filled in on arrival. Audience members face being asked to leave the recording if they flout the rules. 

The company warned people they would be entering the studio at their own risk, noting: “It is important that you understand that we are not able to guarantee that you will not be exposed to Covid-19.

“Therefore, you should consider both your own medical health (and any specific risks associated with Covid-19) and that of those in your household or others with whom you may come into contact with.

“By attending the filming, you agree that you understand the risks.”

If the measures prove to be safe and successful, it could provide a way forward for a raft of other primetime shows, including Britain’s Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing

Both shows have been considering their options over the last few months, after the semi finals of Britain’s Got Talent were pushed back to the autumn. 

Applause Store is currently advertising for fans to appear as part of a “virtual audience”, which has recently been seen on the US version of Simon Cowell’s talent show. HuffPost UK has contacted Britain’s Got Talent to see if this is still the preferred choice.

Strictly is filmed on The George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios
Strictly is filmed on The George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios

It had also been reported that Strictly bosses were not planning to include a live audience in 2020, having already delayed the upcoming series by a month to October. 

However, a Strictly spokesperson told HuffPost UK that “options are still open at the moment”, meaning there’s still hope that the ballroom – located at the BBC Studioworks’ facility at Elstree Studios – could open its doors to the public this year.