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Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! are as integral a part of pop culture as any other shows on TV, and an integral part of those shows has for years been the exuberant studio audience that has provided all the "ooh"s and "ahh"s in each and every episode. Until now, that is. It's being reported that both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune will be filmed without any studio audience involvement for the foreseeable future, due to concerns and fears over the coronavirus.
The changes for Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune's productions are apparently already in place, with empty audience seats accompanying the filming taking place starting on Tuesday, March 10. At this point, the plan is to keep audiences away from episodes indefinitely, since the spread of the coronavirus hasn't yet been contained, and it's unknown how far and wide it will spread in the near future.
It may or may not appear obvious to the public why production company execs would choose to withhold studio audiences from attending Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune tapings during this public health crisis, but there are various reasons why these shows in particular are making that call, according to TMZ.
For one, there's the still-ailing Alex Trebek, whose Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis came just over a year ago. He recently put out an encouraging video about being a year into the recovery process, but even though he has beaten the survival odds, Trebek still suffers from a weaker immune system than most, due to chemotherapy and other medical procedures and treatments. It was theoretically already a risk to have him around large swaths of the public even before the spread of the coronavirus, but now it's been deemed imperative to keep him away from such risks.
Another factor affecting Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune audiences is age. As it similarly goes for the TV viewer demographics, studio audiences for the two game shows tend to skew older, with many being in their 60s. When it comes to the coronavirus, it is indeed older people who are worse off than others. They're more at risk, given their generally weaker immune systems, which also means they have less of a chance of regaining their health after contracting the virus.
A third facet of the decision to pull back on live studio audiences is the fact that a significant number of people who attend game show tapings in Los Angeles are tourists. Not only from elsewhere in the United States, but also from around the world. Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune are well known to everyone around the world, and even though many other countries have their own localized versions, seeing the American iterations with hosts Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak is an experience unto itself. Though it will unfortunately be an experience that no one will enjoy for a while.
Considering the production companies bank episodes after filming them, it will be a couple of months before TV viewers will get to see what Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! look like (and sound like) without anyone in the audience. Will there be recorded applauses that only viewers can hear? Will the camera operators and other on-set crew provide crowd noise? Is it even realistically possible for a Jeopardy! contestant to find a Daily Double without anyone clapping? Who's going to laugh at Pat Sajak's chuckle-worthy interactions and contestant failures? It should make for a strangely sobering viewing experience if nothing else.
Coronavirus scares have impacted virtually every area of business and pleasure on the planet, from Disney theme parks to music festivals to the stock market. Not everyone shares the same worries – Vin Diesel, for one – but it looks like things are only going to get more complicated before they get easier.
Stay tuned to learn when Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune will be bringing studio audiences back to episode tapings. Both shows air in syndication through CBS Television Distribution, so check your local listings to see when and where they air in your area.