Impact of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 inevitably had an impact on the game show world. Series were curtailed, shows were delayed or axed, formats changed. This is a dynamic list; if you think we've missed anything, feel free to use the feedback form below.

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  • The Apprentice did not air in 2020 or 2021, as filming was postponed, and the makers would not have enough time to produce the series quickly enough. The 2020 series was replaced by compilation episodes and the 2021 series was replaced by the Australian version. Series 16, which aired in January 2022, lacked trips abroad.
    • Interestingly, they let Shama Amin on to You're Fired via videolink; several contestants in previous series had been unable to come in for whatever reason, and the pandemic was almost certainly why such an arrangement was entertained.
    • Tim Campbell did not partake in episode 10 as he was self-isolating following close contact with a positive case, although this was obliquely put down to him being unavailable on the day.
    • Gordon Ramsay's The Apprentice knockoff Future Food Stars put up perspex between the sellers and the great unwashed. Casting for that show was interrupted by the pandemic, having commenced in March 2020.
  • On the subject of Gordon Ramsay, his quiz show Bank Balance filmed in December 2020, with episodes screened in front of a virtual audience in February 2021, with weeks to spare until broadcast. Likely due to a dearth of content, the first series got stripped at 9pm, three days a week - we cannot remember the BBC ever doing this with A Proper Quiz Show. We suspect it was intended for air later in the day, because they had to bleep Gordon Ramsay's swearing in the pre-title spoiler packages but not when the moment aired in its source episode due to a nonsense section of the OFCOM broadcasting code (1.6) which demanded that the "transition to more adult material must not be unduly abrupt at the watershed".
  • Celebrity Best Home Cook kept everybody two metres apart except for Ruth Madeley and her helper, who had bubbled up. Judges were seated on separate tables each with their own plates of food. Bizarrely, Mary Berry was kept an entire floor away from everyone, looking down from a balcony while everyone else got to mill around - surely everybody got tested before filming began, and this approach was surely the producers trying to have their cake and eat it.
  • Blankety Blank's festive special was shot using a virtual audience, and its panellists were sat two metres away from each other.

Blankety Blank Will you please stay where you are for the Supermatch?

  • The first celebrity series of Catchpoint sported four really awkwardly spaced podiums for contestants to stand behind, even Joel Dommett and Hannah Cooper, who live together. When contestants were 'in play' they were spaced out two metres away from Paddy. This did not affect civilian episodes, presumably because producers often insist on civilians being bubbled up.
  • By far the biggest felling was that year's Eurovision; neither its song contest nor its young musicians competition took place in 2020. While the EBU considered many options – a series behind closed doors, remote videos from each broadcaster's studio – none of them would deliver the experience. The 41 songs that had been selected for the contest were featured in a non-competitive programme, "Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light", which went out in the same time slot. Graham Norton presented a program called "Eurovision: Come Together" in which viewers voted for their favourite Eurovision song. (SPOILER: It's "Waterloo". Oh.) The 2021 contest forwent live performances from Australia and Iceland's acts (they used rehearsal footage instead); Montaigne could not perform Technicolour in the first semi-final due to travel restrictions, and one of Daði og Gagnamagnið's members tested positive too late for them to perform 10 Years. Duncan Laurence also tested positive too late for him to appear, while territories were in delegation bubbles. At least the 2021 and 2022 contests forwent the "no prerecorded backing vocals" rule.
    • Spare a thought for anyone who got near 2022 host Laura Pausini, who tested positive for the lurgy right after the broadcast. It was a bad day for her, she'd had to miss the later part of the voting window and much of the points-giving after a drop in blood pressure.
  • Future Food Stars, Gordon Ramsay's answer to The Apprentice, bookended the government's response to the pandemic. Applications were open during March 2020, the time when things went from "go" to "stop". The show was eventually made in summer 2021, and aired in spring 2022.
  • The 2021 series of The Great British Sewing Bee put the participants in a "close contact cohort", though the models were not part of this and therefore had to wear masks most of the time. While they wore plain masks during the make, for the judging they were supplied with masks made from the same fabric as the garment, or something complementary; as this was never mentioned, we assume these were run up by a crew member rather than being an additional requirement from the competitors. As is traditional, for the final the contestants invited friends to be their models, and they did self-isolate beforehand, but the previously-eliminated contestants, and the finalists' relatives, did not get to attend in person and instead appeared by video conference. The masks were retained for the 2022 series, but the former contestants and relatives did get to attend the final. Everything was back to normal from the 2022 Christmas special onward.
  • The fifty-ninth series of Have I Got News for You was produced in spring 2020, but within its participants' homes, described by its executive producer Richard Wilson as an 'elaborate video conference'. However, the absence of an audience did really hurt, as it meant the show was missing a necessary layer of quality control. The autumn's sixtieth series was recorded in a studio, with half the audience watching in a cinema downstairs, with the exception of three episodes filmed in November, which used a virtual audience; panellists were separated by perspex screens. All of series 61 except for the last three episodes used a virtual audience. The audience returned for series 62; perspex persisted until the end of series 63.
  • Series three of The Hit List was shot without a studio audience. In fact, they actually shot twelve episodes, double the length of the previous series, so that they had extra content in case of another lockdown. These episodes also included an extended opening round to compensate for the loss of the extended introduction.
  • Panellists on I Can See Your Voice sat in a tilted-N shape, with contestants bubbled up.
  • If the end of 2020's Celebrity Masterchef felt rushed, that's because it was - the show merged its semi-final and final weeks so they could complete filming before lockdown was declared. In addition, Gethin Jones left the show after showing symptoms of COVID and wisely so; fellow semi-finalist Amar Latif had to spend a week in hospital with the virus in April 2020.
    • Meanwhile, with BBC One's stock of big new shows getting depleted, Masterchef: The Professionals was parachuted into a slot on the flagship channel for the first time. Four contestants appeared in each heat instead of the usual six (with the exception of one week, which had to expunge one of its contestants), and in the opening Skills Test round, only Gregg and the chef who set the test remained in the room, the other chef watching via video link. Other necessary changes were that two Michelin-starred chefs came to the studio to firstly give the contestants masterclasses in their cuisine and then to sample the contestants' efforts, and the Chefs' Table challenge was also confined to the studio. For the eliminations at the end, the contestants were rather awkwardly distanced - an obvious solution would have been to just have them stand behind their benches but they didn't do that. In addition, quarterfinalists took it in turns to select ingredients. Traditionally finals week includes a trip to a "destination" restaurant abroad, which obviously wasn't possible either.
    • Similar restrictions applied to the regular Masterchef series broadcast in March/April 2021. A reduced number of contestants, social distancing, no travel. In addition, the judges were given separate servings at separate podia (and a third podium was brought in as necessary for a guest judge). The semi-finalists cooked for their restaurant/hotel's staff rather than their customers, due to them being unable to open at the time of filming. By this stage the production team were old hands at COVID-safe filming; they still didn't sort out the awkward spacing during the eliminations though.
Preparing for a socially distanced judging... and then maybe a trolley race.
    • The 2022 series of Celebrity Masterchef filmed without legal restrictions, but following "best practice" meant that most of the COVID-enforced changes remained for the time being. Social distancing was retained, for the most part, but the odd spontaneous celebratory group hug started to creep back in. More significantly, this series saw the return of the mass catering challenge: the semi-finallists were sent to make lunch for pilots and crew of the Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance, without any obvious attempt at social distancing; the circumstances were specifically addressed as several of the ambulance crew noted that it was their first proper social get-together since the onset of the pandemic.
    • Things were pretty much back to normal for the regular Masterchef series in 2023, including a trip overseas for the finallists, though the separate podia were still used for the first couple of weeks before being replaced with first a communal countertop, then a single table.
    • Monica Galetti missed the 2022 series of Masterchef: The Professionals, partly due to being needed at her workplace; an industry wide shortage of chefs, together with the added personal pressure of a serious illness in the family, meant something had to give.
  • Pooch Perfect had a number of changes: originally commissioned for pairs of dog groomers, they chose to reduce it to single players. As a bubble was impossible (the dogs change each episode, and bring in their owners), a heats-and-finals format replaced the planned one-out-every-week structure. The show also had to cope with restrictions in the Salford and Trafford area where they recorded.
  • A Question of Sport recorded eight episodes just before lockdown. The show moved to Radio 5 for a short series made from the contestants' homes, presented by Mark Chapman and broadcast live. Chapman was replaced by Steve Crossman for the final three episodes, for personal reasons. When the television programme resumed production social distancing affected the rest of the series (and indeed, Sue, Matt and Phil's final episodes); no audience was present, and teams were encouraged to discuss out loud rather than quietly, which meant removing the bonus point. In addition, one edition was screened less than three days after filming. The first series of the 2021 revamp separated the participants by perspex.
  • Filming of Little Mix's The Search, which would have begun in April and originally aimed to find a supporting slot on their 2020 summer tour, was off, as Little Mix's summer tour did not go ahead; the series eventually began in September, and the winner will support Little Mix on their next tour, if they have another one. Backing dancers wore masks and social distanced from each other, as did Chris Ramsey from contestants and - bizarrely - Little Mix appeared to social distance from each other. The live finals lost two episodes; the episode scheduled for 17 October was lost after a crew member tested positive for the virus and was replaced by extending the billed Garden Rescue repeat and adding in a Celebrity Mastermind repeat, and the episode scheduled for 31 October was rescheduled for 6 November (the day before the final) to accommodate Yet More Waffle. To make matters worse, Jade Thirlwall had to have the episode aired on 24 October off after suffering symptoms.
  • Strictly Come Dancing missed its usual September start, instead we had specials celebrating the best of their movies, Blackpool, musicals and final episodes - all recorded from the homes of the presenters and judges. The series began three weeks late, in mid-October. Two of the weeks 'missing' were the Blackpool and Halloween weeks - the former for Covid reasons, the latter due to the shorter series.
    • The orchestra were distanced, which required a reduction in the number of musicians on stage, so the brass parts were pre-recorded. The 2021 and 2022 series used the same technique.
    • All of the professionals' group dances for the series were pre-recorded before the series started - the professionals had bubbled up with each other for two weeks beforehand. Contestants who test positive would have to leave the competition as the BBC would require them to self-isolate for two weeks, which is longer than the Westminster government's requirement of ten days' isolation (as endured by contestant HRVY when he tested positive before the series started). Nicola Adams had to leave the series this way after her dance partner Katya Jones tested positive.
    • The edition on 31 October lost its prerecorded group dance as it had to be shortened - a news special beforehand and live Six Nations rugby afterwards left no room. November editions lost their audience.
    • We didn't get a new Christmas contest, as the participants would need to quarantine for two weeks beforehand and it would be unworth it for a single episode. The edition which aired on Christmas Day was a compilation of the twenty-five most memorable dances of all time. Arguably, we were lucky to get any Strictly at all, since the RTÉ version, having ended a week earlier due to the lockdown, didn't mount its scheduled January 2021 series.
    • The Bruno Tonioli fan club was disappointed, as he lives in Hollywood, and would usually make lots of transatlantic flights during the series to accommodate his concurrent judgement of the BBC and Yankee versions and picked the Yanks over us. He wasn't replaced, and bizarrely so, since Len Goodman won't be participating in the Yankee version - why not use him? Although Bruno could theoretically have joined in the 12 and 19 December editions it was decided that this would not constitute essential travel. The Anton Du Beke fanclub, on the other hand, were in for a treat, as he stepped in for Motsi Mabuse for the 14 and 21 November editions, as she had commuted to Germany in the middle of the series after her dance school was broken into and had to self-isolate; she also contributed via video link.
    • The 2021 series dispensed totally with Blackpool and Bruno Tonioli, due to the uncertainty surrounding international travel; he was also covered by Anton Du Beke, and would be for the 2022 series onwards as well. Tom Fletcher and Amy Dowden had to miss week two due to them both testing positive and were given a bye into week three, Judi Love had to miss week five after she tested positive, Craig Revel Horwood missed week nine and was replaced by Cynthia Erivo, Tilly Ramsay had to miss the final after testing positive and politics meant that Motsi Mabuse could not partake in week ten following a Test and Trace order (her vaccines aren't recognised in this territory).
    • Nikita Kuzmin had to pull out of the 2022 tour after testing positive and Kym Marsh had to pull out of week ten of the 2022 series after testing positive.
  • Take Off, while recorded in February 2020, had to wait until summer 2021 to be broadcast, presumably because the BBC thought it inappropriate to air a travel-based game show when travel was discouraged.
  • Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness recorded their narration of Total Wipeout: Freddie and Paddy Takeover in separate recording booths, and could see each other only via laptops.
  • While it had been suspected that the BBC would move production of The Wall from Poland, the pandemic forced the matter, plus the second and third series were shot without an audience and with social distancing in place; contestants keep two metres away from Danny at all times, while supporters kept two metres away from each other. From the 2021 Christmas special, the audience was restored, but the supporters were separated by perspex.

The Wall We ain't had a massive row...

  • Michael McIntyre couldn't present his usual Big Show, so they got him hosting The Wheel instead. Its audience were in masks behind a wall. A positive test meant that Harry Redknapp and Nick Grimshaw had to self-isolate after recording their episode.
  • Would I Lie to You? recorded two series with a reduced audience and with panellists sitting at separate desks. Brilliantly, they picked an episode of this to repeat after an unexpected statement from the prime minister deposed the scheduled episode of The Sheriffs Are Coming. But no-one watched it, because everyone had re-tuned to watch Bake Off's launch episode. Series 14 and series 15 sandwiched the mystery guest in perspex, while the Series 15 Christmas special stuck them behind a screen.


  • A series seventeen episode of Dragons' Den scheduled to air on 29 March 2020 was delayed for two weeks and edited to remove a pitch for a virus-killing air purification unit. The Radio Times preview for the episode put particular emphasis on how the dragons could not have known how big an issue this was about to become when they filmed the show in 2019, implying it did not receive an investment.
    • Due to a dearth of content, the eighteenth series aired on BBC1 on Thursdays from 1 April 2021. Changes to the set-up were relatively subtle since the dragons had always been a good distance apart anyway; the biggest change was the lack of handshakes at the conclusion of a successful pitch. In addition, product samples were placed in crates next to the dragons instead of being handed out by the pitchers, and un-bubbled pairs of pitchers were separated by a screen in the lift (we get the impression that they weren't kept hanging around in the lift very long either). Peter Jones had to miss three episodes due to him self-isolating, and was replaced by Theo Paphitis.
  • One of the contestants in Idris Elba's Fight School joined late due to suffering a bout of Covid pneumonia just before filming. Originally commissioned for a four-episode run, England went into Plan B restrictions the day before the big fight; the resulting delay resulted in an extra episode being made.
  • Great British Christmas Menu was prefixed with a notice saying "This series was made in accordance with coronavirus regulations current at the time of filming including testing". Contestants competed in a "COVID-safe bubble", porters wore masks and the banquet was held in honour of keyworkers as a thank you for their service during the pandemic.
    • The first twenty-eight episodes of the 2021 series were almost completely unaffected, with only the judges spaced out a little further than usual and the porters wearing masks; chefs' restaurants were shut at time of filming, and so they would have been more open to forming a bubble. The last episode was affected badly; the banquet had to be held outside (at time of recording in April, restrictions had only just relaxed enough for that), with tables two-metre-long so they could fit two households, and main course chef Oliver Marlow couldn't cook as he tested positive (the only positive test anybody received all series, if you can believe Andi) and Rachel Khoo couldn't partake in the banquet as she was overseas and quarantine requirements precluded her appearance.
    • Likewise, the first twenty-nine episodes of the 2022 series were almost completely unaffected, with only the judges spaced out a little further than usual and the porters wearing masks. The last episode, comprised of a day and a half of cooking and half a day of banquet, lost starter winner Nathan Davies for the first day of cooking, as his test result didn't come back in time; canapé and pre-dessert chef Sally Abé deputised for that day.
  • The second series of I'll Get This premiered in its extended version, rather than the familiar half-hour edition. The extra 15 minutes pushed Newsnight back to 10.45pm, allowing it to move into the same studio as the main evening news over on BBC1.
  • The very last episode of the 2019/20 series of Celebrity Mastermind, intended for 21 March 2020, was bumped for a news special, and aired two weeks later, on 4 April 2020.
    • Series 47 and 48 of Mastermind forwent an audience, and its contestants were spaced two metres apart. The second and third contenders were seated behind the first and fourth contenders in a U-shaped arrangement, an idea taken from The Chase Australia. In addition, award presentations were done away with, although Scottish viewers wouldn't discover this until two days and nearly three hours later due to a Holyrood announcement interrupting a Celebrity edition. And poor Briony Havergill and Edana Guest were replaced by Sallie Phillips and Sally Wilson, two of the highest scoring runners-up, due to being unavailable at time of recording. The 2022-23 series put the contenders in a straight line again, though there was still no studio audience.

Mastermind Stark.

    • These changes were kept into series 48; although uncredited as such, the final heat having only three contestants had 'positive test' written from side to side and from top to bottom.
    • Mastermind Cymru came back on S4C after a decade-long break: the small studio meant they put plastic screens between players.

Mastermind Even starker.

  • Mock the Week took an extended siesta as it was much more dependent on audience reaction. After it became apparent that restrictions would last until at least March, a series was mounted initially using a small, socially distanced audience supplemented by Zoom, and with its fourth, fifth and sixth editions using only a virtual audience. Panellists were "encased in perspex cubes", and socially distanced during the "Scenes We'd Like to See" round. Its 'halves' wrapped around Christmas instead of the Edinburgh Festival, which did not run that year. We had hoped it would use its extended siesta to review its booking policy.
    • Angela Barnes had to pull out of the penultimate 2020 edition after developing a high temperature; she was replaced by the show's warm-up, Maff Brown. This is at least the second occasion a panellist was replaced due to illness; Frankie Boyle had to be replaced by David Mitchell in the penultimate 2009 edition due to illness.
  • Only Connect managed to avoid undue delays, but the set did incorporate screens between the contestants, everyone had their own buzzer, and only the team captains got to use the touch-screen for the connecting wall. The changes from the 2020-1 series remained for the 2021-2 and 2022-3 runs. Everything was back to normal for the 2023-4 run, save for the gag ending to that series' final, with Victoria going on at length about how for the first time in ages she could personally hand the trophy to the winners. Roll credits, and Victoria getting up to award the trophy and shake hands with the winners... having first donned a surgical mask and one (only one?) rubber glove.

Only Connect (2) Screens split the players: spot reflections and the edges.

  • The R-series of QI took a break in the middle after episodes ran out; the final six episodes (five regular, one compilation) aired four months later. Two episodes had to be shot without audiences, and the final five editions of that series employed social distancing; the first episode filmed after lockdown was filmed in front of 40 people, who wore masks. The S-series used a virtual audience.
  • The production of a celebrity series of Race Across the World had to be postponed as a result of the outbreak; its second civilian series, which had already finished production, aired in March and April 2020, but it wasn't until March 2023 that the third appeared (now on BBC1), filmed entirely in Canada rather than crossing any international borders.
  • Rock Till We Drop struggled with the virus; the first day of rehearsals lost Lady Leshurr's bassist Carol after she couldn't get a negative test in time, and missed the performance after testing positive, while Martin Kemp had to have a week off ill near the end of filming and no sooner had he got back then Lady Leshurr fell ill and had to have Fleur East deputise on the day. Although the show had just enough competition to count for our purposes, you've got to suspect that creating two "rival" bands was as much about having an insurance policy in case one was completely lost to the virus.
  • From the 2020 highest scoring losers matches, University Challenge contestants sat with clear screens between them, and wearing earpieces so they could hear each other. They also relaxed the rule that says you can't play if you've finished your degree during the course of the competition, which some of us thought they should have done anyway after the 2009 Corpus Christi débacle. There was no studio audience; polite smatterings of applause were added in the edit. The screens remained in place until the end of the 2022/3 student series, meaning Jeremy Paxman's last broadcast "goodbye from me" was on a socially-distanced set, though the screens were gone for his actual last UC recordings, the 2022 Christmas University Challenge specials. As of the 2023/4 series, the audience remains canned.


On 12 March 2020, the Westminster government made an unexpected announcement and abandoned its "containment" policy. From 16 March until 23 June, and occasionally since, BBC One daytime was choked with Westminster government briefings, which meant that shows aired in unusual timeslots.

  • Antiques Road Trip was seven episodes into series 21 when production paused. Not a lot of social distancing took place (though it was noticeable that when paying for items, the contestants were suddenly placing their money down on the counter rather than handing it over directly) but from episode eight, auctions were followed on iPads and series 21, episodes 1, 6, 10 and 14 and series 22, episode 1 were broadcast on the second channel.
  • From 27 March to 16 July, Welsh viewers were able to watch Bargain Hunt half an hour earlier than in the rest of the country at 11.45, as the Senedd produced its own daily update at 12.30. This arrangement was due to end on 17 July, but an announcement from Westminster took precedence, and that day's Bargain Hunt didn't go out in Wales.
  • Episodes 1-12 and 19-20 of series 1 of The Bidding Room aired at 3.45. On days when there was no Coronavirus Update, the show bunched up to 4.30. When episode 25 of that series was preempted as a result of an Update, BBC1 aired it on Sunday, at 3:50.

The Bidding Room For the first twenty five episodes, aired in two blocks, displaced shows would simply change timeslot.

    • However, after episodes 27 and 29 were both bumped, it was decided to air them on Tuesday and Wednesday the following week; that Monday's episode was a repeat of episode 25. Episodes 1-24 of series two were intended to air between 4 January and 5 February 2021, with no episode planned for 20 January as the BBC preferred to carry Mr. Biden's swearing-in. When episodes 2 (5 January 21), 4 (7 Jan 21), 6 (11 Jan 21), 10-11 (15 and 18 Jan 21), 14-17 (22 and 25-27 Jan 21), 20 (1 February 21) and 22 (3 Feb 21) of series 2 were bumped… no weekend slots were allocated, so between 8 and 19 February 2021, second attempts were made to broadcast previously bumped episodes in the following order: episodes 2, 6, 11, 14, 4, 25, 16, 17, 15 and 10. However, when they reattempted to air episode 2 on 8 February 2021 and episode 11 on 10 February 2021, they again got bumped, and were tried again on 22 and 25 February; attempts to repremier episodes 20 and 22 were not made until 23 and 24 February. Episode 25, which would have aired on 5 February, was reattempted on 15 and 26 February and 1 March before finally airing on 2 March. Well done if you got that at ... sorry, wrong show.

The Bidding Room After episode 25 rated poorly, episodes 27 and 29 were aired at the end of the run, after a repeat of episode 25. Subsequent displaced episodes have also suffixed the run.

    • The first episode of the first compilation series, originally planned to air on 6 January 2021, had to be moved to the second channel to make room for a Question Time special to discuss the previous day's update. (When they tried to repeat it on 30 June 2021, Andy Murray overran, so it had to move again.)
  • Although the first-run airings of series two of The Customer Is Always Right aired in a consistent slot (3.45) and so did the first ten of its shortened repeats (2.30), premieres of the shortened repeats of its last five episodes aired weekly, at 1.45 on Fridays, to accommodate the fact that Doctors was only airing four days a week, and we cannot remember the last time episodes of anything aired weekly in BBC Daytime.
  • Eggheads was originally set to air its final BBC2 episodes at 6pm from 13 April 2020. This date was pushed back and pushed back, the schedulers preferred to air repeats just in case productions never resumed. They were half-right, as the show would transfer to Channel 5, and the final BBC2 Eggheads were eventually transmitted from 25 May. Twenty five Celebrity Eggheads episodes filled an !mpossible-shaped hole on BBC1 in August 2020, the first appearance on that channel in 15 years. Its first two Channel 5 series saw panellists separated by perspex; during its first series back, Christopher Hughes declined to film citing COVID restrictions.
  • A repeat run of Head Hunters was disrupted by BBC Two carrying Lockdown Learning during the third lockdown, which meant that a planned repeat of episode 20 was delayed by eleven weeks; golf and snooker meant that the entire run, having begun on 23 November 2020, did not finish until 6 May 2021.
  • Episode four of the second series of Home Is Where the Art Is didn't air, as that day's "The Repair Shop: Fixing Britain" had been shoved back by 45 minutes to make room for an Update; it was appended to the end of the run, airing a weekend after the rest of the series. Shortened versions of the series filled a Doctors-shaped hole on Fridays from 12 March 2021.
  • Pointless moving to 5.45pm on 12 March 2020 meant that the penultimate episode of the third series of Richard Osman's House of Games was displaced to 6.30pm. Guests on the latter were spaced two metres apart, and answers for some games were sent to the contestants' tablets rather than passed out on little cards. The trophy was also not passed down the line to the winner (post-pandemic, they still don't pass the trophy down the line, though it's hard to see why not). Oddly enough the show did retain the swapping of positions for pairs rounds (although you could argue that none of the games really required it) but cunningly cut away at that point so that we didn't see the production staff in masks and gloves physically move the chairs, allowing everyone to stay in the same literal seat throughout. More frivolously, the pandemic gave rise to a running joke that the prize shampoo doubled as hand sanitiser, though this still didn't convince anyone to take it. Filming of new episodes had to pause; they had made one out of twenty weeks before lockdown. When production resumed, it moved from BBC Scotland Street to Riverside Studios; the pre-lockdown week ended the series. The changes persisted into the fifth series, aired from August 2021, and - for the most part - the sixth, from September 2022, though it appears that they returned to actual seat-swapping partway through that filming block. The 2021 series of primetime version House of Games Night gained a small in-vision studio audience (some of whom had things to do as part of the games) who wore masks most of the time.
  • Transmission of series seven of !mpossible was delayed by fourteen weeks, for the same reason they delayed Eggheads; the first twenty five episodes of series three were repeated in its place and ironically so, given that that series was originally split in two (20 episodes, followed by a week of repeats, and with the final 10 episodes backing on to series four). The first two weeks of series seven aired at 1.45, rather than 2.15, to accommodate the absence of Doctors.
    • Series eight only used - wait for it - twelve contestants, down from twenty-one. We can only assume that someone accidentally on purpose transposed the digits in order to save money on perspex. Episodes 5, 10, 17-25 and 30 aired at 1.45, again to accommodate a lack of Doctors (with the exception of episode 21, which aired after episode 20 due to the death of Prince Philip).

!mpossible Surely just air the half-hour programme in the Doctors slot…

    • Ten episodes from series six were aired at the end of series eight, due to filming for Unbeatable being delayed by Jason Manford being ordered to isolate. Unbelievably, they picked a week where Rick had a cold and where a contestant dropped out of the final episode due to having one. There's a reason you don't commission fast-turnaround programming during a pandemic. Unbeatable itself kept its contestants two metres apart and lacked an audience, and Friday episodes 5, 10, 15, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 premiered at 1.45 instead of 2.15.
  • Lightning spaced its contestants two metres apart, in a semi-circle, and shot without an audience - not that one would want to be there with the constant threat of being hit. (The show had been commissioned in February 2020, and was planned for March 2020, but was eventually shot in August 2020.) Contestants also social distanced during the physical round. Contestants also wore the same clothes all week; almost as if changing rooms were considered an unacceptable risk.

Lightning How difficult would a series of Fifteen to One be to mount?

  • With BBC1's afternoons given over to news coverage, Pointless temporarily moved to BBC2, retaining its regular 5.15pm slot with only the repeat on 12 March pushed back to 5.45pm. From 30 March 2020, and for the first time since 2011, new episodes of Pointless premiered on BBC2. Only three weeks of new editions appeared before going back to repeats; there were 101 shows on the shelf but presumably it was felt a waste to debut them on the second channel. Viewing figures were less than half those achieved on BBC1. Those who wished to record them were stymied by the fact that episodes were still officially scheduled on BBC1 and moved on an ad-hoc basis each afternoon, and automatic recordings on PVRs failed.
    • Pointless returned to BBC1 on 24 June, after the Westminster press conferences ended. New episodes resumed on 26 June. (The new episode aired in Wales at 5.45 on Sunday because they'd aired a sports repeat on BBC2 on Tuesday.) Episodes on 2, 3 and 9 July, 30 September and 20 October 2020, 5, 7, 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 26 and 27 January, 1, 3, 8, 10 and 15 February, 10 and 14 May and 12 and 19 July 2021 premiered on the second channel due to unexpected resumptions of waffle from Westminster. All of this raises the question - why not schedule two different episodes for the two channels, so that when episodes air on BBC One, they're new and when they don't, they aren't?

Pointless In fairness, at least it had a consistent slot.

    • Social distancing affected series 14 of Pointless Celebrities, starting with the 2020 Christmas special and resuming on 13 March; celebrities stood either side of perspex, with a wider surround added to the podia so that they were still standing behind something. The "audience" was also obviously canned. And an odd quirk... although players did not need to change places at the beginning of the second pass, some form of punctuation was apparently deemed necessary, so the musical sting and lighting cue at that point appeared in an abbreviated form. The exception was a "family" edition broadcast on 9 April 2022 which featured four pairs who were in bubbles and so was able to proceed as normal, position-swapping and all, the only clue to its Covid-safe nature being that the podium surrounds were still in place despite being somewhat redundant. Series 16, starting with the BBC centenary special in November 2022, returned to normal except that there was still no live audience. However since the BBC seems to just throw all available episodes of Pointless Celebrities into a pool to be dipped into in no particular order, "new" socially-distanced editions from Series 15 continued to appear well into 2023, with the last finally appearing on 5 August.
    • Series 25 of the civilian edition, from 6 April 2021, featured only contestants resident in England (since people in the devolved nations were advised not to travel), and gave them three chances to win the jackpot. No perspex was necessary, due to producers demanding that contestants were in bubbles, though the audience was also canned. (A subtle effect of this is that in normal circumstances, when Richard is introduced he says hello first to the camera, then to the studio audience; for the first episode back, he forewent the second hello altogether, but from the second onwards he directed it at the contestants instead.) As of late 2023, the live audience has yet to return; the show has moved studios in the meantime and it rather appears that once they'd established they could get away without an audience, it was decided that was how they'd do it from then on. We really hope not, though - surely you'd want people in for the Celebrity editions, at least? The show opted not to mention the virus whatsoever, meaning the absence of Alex and Nick and Carmen and Mark went unacknowledged, and the pause in the appearances of Reece and Josh (S25E35, S25E44 and S25E45) and Nick and Sally (S25E34 and S25E35) were said obliquely to be down to "illness" on S25E36 and not at all on any other shows. Even fusty old Mastermind could acknowledge its absences. Even when two previously-invalided pairs (Rory and Amber, S26E19) resumed their runs on S26E24, Richard's explanation was still rather obliquely "because of when we're filming this". (He also claimed that it was the first time they'd ever had four returning pairs, which isn't strictly true. The point he was trying to make was that it was the first time there were no new pairs, and that stands, but he'd forgotten that the second ever episode, back in 2009, had four returning pairs out of five.)

Pointless But they did move the podiums slightly further apart during the head-to-head.

    • One consequence of the various stay-at-home orders is that, from 5 April 2022 (but almost certainly earlier), draws were no longer called lockdowns... until the episode on 19 October 2022 when the terminology returned, though without all the mock chanting and other general fuss. Albeit that was largely a running joke between Armstrong and Osman so quite likely wouldn't have carried on with the guest hosts anyway.
  • The revival of Ready Steady Cook, broadcast between 2 and 27 March, was by far the worst affected; the first eleven daily briefings had varying start times, and as a result the show was shuffled about the schedules. Episodes 1-8 and 10 went out at 4.30pm, episode 9 (broadcast on 12 March) went out at 4.40pm on BBC2, episodes 11, 13 and 14 aired at 3.45pm, episode 19 aired at 3.30pm and episodes 12, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 20 aired at 3pm. Just in case, and because briefings stabilised literally as soon as the series was over, series two aired at 3:45pm.

Ready Steady Cook The 2020 series changed transmission times as often as Akis Petretzikis changed kitchens.

    • In addition, the 2021 series was badly affected. One of the chefs, Mike Reid, had to be replaced by Jeremy Pang after he couldn't fly in from Australia. Chefs kept two metres away from their assistants, with each 'half' of each team two metres apart and cooking separate components and plating them up separately (surely said pairs were ripe for forming close contact cohorts?). Kitchens were two metres away from Rylan. Instead of being judged by an audience, the show was judged by a trio of 'off-duty' chefs, or a 'Chefs' Table' as they called it, who were spaced two metres apart; an interesting decision was that only the assistants got to taste their dishes, which may have made sense with an audience of about 40-odd but seemed downright cheap to not attempt to feed the three chefs given that each of the three chefs on Masterchef: The Professionals got to taste. In addition, instead of pairs picking ingredients from the three rows of Ready Steady Cook, the Chefs' Table chefs each picked an ingredient at random, with the teams being given the choice of switching an ingredient with one of Rylan's Wildcards. Episodes, when they did air, did so at 3:45, before The Bidding Room and The Repair Shop. That's with the exception of episode six (8 March 2021), which was displaced by a 3:45-5:15 Update to the end of the run (Tuesday 14 April 2021, as no episode had aired on 2 April 2021 due to Easter schedules), and episode twenty five (5 April 2021), which was displaced by The Repair Shop being displaced by a 4:30-6 update - except for BBC Yorkshire, where the Update apparently didn't go out. Almost as if it was rating badly and the BBC were only airing it when they had to.

Ready Steady Cook The 2021 series aired earlier, and thus was spared from too much disruption, but was still occasionally dislodged.

  • Speaking of Rylan Clark-hosted shows, Strictly: It Takes Two, which he and Zoe Ball usually each host solo two days a week and cohost once a week, was instead hosted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday by Ball and Thursday and Friday to accommodate social distancing. That's with the exception of 12, 13, 19 and 20 November, due to Rylan needing to self-isolate; Gethin Jones covered for him. Rylan remained with It Takes Two in 2021, hosting Monday, Tuesday, and Friday; Janette Manara took Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Fair play to The Tournament, for it did a very good job of hiding that its contestants were two metres apart. Its first series' Friday episodes aired half an hour earlier due to Doctors not being on.

Other BBC channels

  • Yung Filly first presented BBC3's Lockdown Showdown from his flat, which later morphed into Celeb Lock-In which he presented from a studio. All other contributors participated from home.
  • Crackerjack was made in an effervescence of bubbles. Sam and Mark were in one bubble, the Crackerjack players in another; "Prize Guy" wasn't able to cross between the two bubbles. All of the young players had to keep their distance from each other and from the hosts. The only person allowed to get close to the children was The Cabbage Keeper, a head-to-toe costume concealing protective equipment. There was no audience shouting "Crackerjack!" at the top of their voices, so do fill in for them at home.

Crackerjack And "Watch It!!!" was played by two players rather than three.

  • Everyone from the 2020 Christmas special of The Dog Ate My Homework onwards was two metres apart and audience participation was added afterwards.
  • Cbeebies' star show Gigglequiz wasn't immune from the pandemic - the young participants in some editions of Nana Knickerbocker's Panto Showdown are kept a couple of metres away from each other and from Nana K.
  • Georgie Mills, the winner of 2020's Got What It Takes?, was unable to take her prize to perform on the main stage of this year's Radio 1 Big Weekend, as the event in Dundee had been cancelled. 2021's contest followed social distancing rules. Both Georgie, and 2021's winner Tilly Lockey, both performed on the 2022 edition.
  • BBC Scotland pilot The Remotely Amusing Game Show appeared to have been conceived specifically with COVID-safe filming in mind, but was actually produced in the Spring of 2022 just as legal restrictions were coming to an end and was one of the first shows to do away with social distancing, both for panellists and for the studio audience. The audience did wear masks, though it was hard to spot as they were only seen from behind.
  • RuPaul's Drag Race UK was mid-series when filming was suspended. Episode 4 ended on a cliffhanger: the "next time" trailer for Episode 5 showed the moment that filming was suspended, with a hastily-made announcement video from RuPaul, and Queens on Lockdown showed what the queens were up to during the hiatus. We do know that the judges will be separated by perspex, and that it took until November for filming to resume. In addition, Veronica Green was not able to continue after testing positive for the virus; she was replaced by Joe Black, and was given an open invitation to the third series. We still hold out hope that Strictly Come Dancing follows their example with Nicola Adams.
  • The 2020 series of Top Class had to be abandoned due to the pandemic.
  • BBC4's Young Musician of the Year had recorded its category finals and semi-final before things went awry. The category finals were shown during May 2020; the semi-final was "postponed until the final can be arranged". The final was recorded in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall during March 2021, allowing the semi-final to go out on 30 April 2021, with the final a week later.

Commercial channels

Commercial channels are at the mercy of the advertising industry, which completely collapsed in the few weeks leading up to the lockdown; advertisers are reluctant to plough money into promoting goods you can't buy and services that are suspended.



It was announced that ITV would be reducing their programme budget by £100 million, which "reflect[ed] savings from sport, including the postponement of Euro 2020, the late delivery of commissioned programming and active decisions to reduce [thei]r spend".

  • Lee Mack's The 1% Club had its recording sessions delayed twice, having been planned for April 2020, and then again for January 2021. When it made it to air, its contestants were separated by perspex. At least it made it to air with 100 people, the Dutch version of 1 vs 100 had to cut its mob in half.
  • Participants on The Big Quiz were spaced two metres apart and bizarrely so, since the cast are in bubbles anyway.
  • The first celebrity series of Britain's Brightest Family was pulled forward in the schedules, filling the gap left by Euro 2020. Originally made to air in July and August, Anne Hegerty's show began its run at the end of May. The second celebrity series seated their families in a T-shape, with the celebrities stood ahead of their teammates.
  • Britain's Got Talent - ITV made the decision to go ahead with airing its series 14 auditions as planned, despite knowing they would almost certainly have not been able to finish the series as a result of the pandemic. It's not for us to tell ITV how to run their business but really… would it not have been better to wait until the rest of the series can be filmed before airing the series in one block? Granted, the BBC were unsuccessful when it came to The Search but they at least tried.
    • The finals went out in September and October, with a catch-up episode airing on 30 August, and without Simon Cowell - he'd broken his back before the finals and had to be replaced by Ashley Banjo. The format of the semi-finals changed to the judges picking an act from each semi-final to send through, and then asking the public to put through another act from the semifinal - these semi-final shows were prerecorded. In addition, filming of the Christmas special was paused after at least three crew members tested positive.
    • Filming of series 15 was delayed from January 2021, first until April 2021, and then again after it was decided not to air a series in 2021 - it was thought too risky to have large groups traipsing the length of the island just to make television. If we interpret the press release correctly, Britain's Got Talent is not prepared to sacrifice scale or its participants' health. The 2021 series' replacement, Game of Talents, was shot without an audience; the applause and laughter comes partly from people at home, but we fear that it's mostly Canned Crowd™ or so heavily edited that it might as well have been from a tape. The celebrities and their playing partners went through the necessary precautions to stand at the same podium, and we've no doubt that the house dancers have done the same, but everyone else keeps big distances, standing right across the set.

Game of Talents Keep! Two! Metres! Apart!

    • Simon Cowell missed a round of auditions of the 2022 run as he was isolating; we don't think any performers from that round made it to broadcast.
    • Ant and Dec missed The Ultimate Magician after contracting the virus; Stephen Mulhern was promoted to front-of-house duties.
  • Catchphrase's 2020 series was shot without an audience; social distancing would have meant they wouldn't even have got three people in, never mind 300. Recording commenced the day after the two metre rule was axed, so the podiums were moved closer. Episodes from 2021's Soccer Aid special onwards used perspex.
  • The Cube's revival forwent an audience; supporters not in a bubble socially distanced.
  • At least the 2021 series of Dancing on Ice will be filmed without an audience. Like on Strictly Come Dancing, couples formed cohorts; unlike Strictly, the judges sat with perspex between them - even Torvill and Dean, who are surely in a bubble. Group dances were prerecorded, and Karen Barber wore a mask while coaching. Bizarrely, Phil and Holly stood two metres apart despite the fact that they work together every blinking day on This Morning. Rufus Hound had to be replaced by Matt Richardson after week 3 - he had previously had to isolate during weeks 2 and 3 after interacting with a positive case, and was very lucky to survive that long as he only skated in week 1 due to Yebin Mok sustaining an injury - and Joe-Warren Plant had to leave without replacement after week 4. It was an incredibly unlucky year for the show; Denise Van Outen, Billie Shepherd and Jason Donovan also dropped out due to injury, its intended 'week 6' was replaced by a compilation episode, and its intended 'week 10' was lost due to the final being brought forward.
    • All Star Musicals, which effectively replaced Dancing on Ice for week ten, used a virtual audience. Interestingly, only six celebrities participated in this episode rather than the usual seven. Panellists were separated by perspex, while Dave Arch's orchestra were socially distanced, as they had been in Strictly Come Dancing. The 2022 episode, which again followed Dancing on Ice, used an audience but still separated its panellists by perspex.
    • The 2022 series was afflicted by COVID pretty much from the get-go, after Bez tested positive the day after the first broadcast; new regulations brought in that month meant he only had to isolate for five days, and was able to contribute to the following Sunday's broadcast. Vanessa Bauer tested positive during week 6 and was replaced with Brendyn Hatfield for that week, and bizarrely so; she was clearly apparently well enough to appear in the audience the following Sunday - plus skating pairs have just about the closest contact of anyone on TV.
    • Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby had to take weeks four and nine off respectively. Strangely, they brought in Stephen Mulhern to cover for Schofield, but didn't bother replacing Willoughby, claiming that they didn't have enough time to book a replacement. Which seems odd when even the poxiest theatre in the land can afford an understudy, Dancing on Ice is a multi-million-pound extravaganza with every contingency covered, the show even has two talented TV presenters on the panel in Ashley Banjo and Oti Mabuse, and apparently has no problem with having a varying number of judges, having had an extra judge earlier in the series in Arlene Phillips.
  • The first series of Epic Gameshow itself was unaffected, but a number of its promos had to have their dates and times recorded in an audibly lower quality than the rest of the promos. In addition, one ad break for the second episode consisted of just one, three and a half minute advert.
    • The second series was affected by social distancing. Episodes saw only two couples on-screen at a time, separated by Perspex. That series was shot without an audience, which meant that The Price is Right contestants had to come out from off-set - and that the cold open of Alan addressing the audience was done away with. Unfortunately, this had the effect of exposing just how painfully 'thin' the theme tune was…
    • The second series episode of Take Your Pick kept Alan, Shaun and contestants two metres apart, with the podiums for the last six taking up almost the whole studio. At least we didn't have to sit through Alan and Shaun struggling to lift the Epic Win box up the steps.
  • Clearly buoyed by the success of repeats of Vernon Kay's series on Challenge and Pick, and by the fact that running a TV quiz over the internet runs the risk of contestants can look up answers, ITV decided to commission a lockdown version of Family Fortunes, with Gino D'Acampo in charge. When it was eventually produced, the audience was smaller (50 in a venue with the capacity for 350); both the stupid answer squeal and the winners' scrum were much missed.

Family Fortunes While the contestants celebrate, Gino keeps away.

  • In April, as it became apparent that international travel was likely to remain problematic for some time, ITV Studios floated the idea that I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! could film this year's series in the UK instead. This was officially confirmed on 7 August when it was announced that the setting would be Gwrych Castle in Wales. Which poses an interesting question: why wasn't this done last year during the Australian bushfires, which happened hazardously close to the set? Participants quarantined for two weeks beforehand and crew wore proximity monitors, which bleeped at them if they got within two metres. The 2021 series was also held in Gwrych Castle.
    • The 2021 series lost Richard Madeley after he broke the show's Covid bubble after being taken to hospital, the 2021 final lost seven minutes due to seven minutes of waffle.
  • Ken Jeong had to be replaced on The Masked Singer due to travel restrictions, he was replaced by Mo Gilligan. The judges had "giant bit[s] of perspex" between them, while Joel kept two metres away from everyone. Audience members sat in socially distanced bubbles. In addition, to help fill the gap left by Euro 2020, ITV bought the second series of US Masked Singer, to be broadcast in June. Obviously The Masked Singer US being American, they had to cut out a number of superfluous ad breaks. Unfortunately, someone got a little too enthusiastic with the scissors, and ended up cutting out the third-place reveal.
    • A series of The Masked Dancer was made to fill the gap where the finals of Britain's Got Talent were. Rita Ora could not participate, as she was filming The Voice Australia at the time and quarantine requirements precluded her from doing a Bruno and flying back and forth.
    • The third series, broadcast in 2022, strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel in allowing a full maskless audience but keeping the perspex.
  • The Games was planned for summer 2020, with Adam, Ryan and Scott Thomas facing each other on separate teams; due to the pandemic, only single events were run, which prevented their participation. COVID restrictions saw the show delayed to 2022, which meant its original Olympic theme would seem out of place.
  • Saturday Night Takeaway was in the middle of series sixteen when the outbreak became an inconvenience. The first three episodes went out as usual, the fourth went out with a disclaimer that the intended finale in Florida had been cancelled due to travel restrictions to and from the self-proclaimed United States, the fifth episode aired without a studio audience and the last two were hour-long compilation episodes filmed from Ant and Dec's houses, separated from each other. Still aired more footage than the previous series; its previous series lost an episode as a result of the rehabilitation of Ant McPartlin. As a result of the shortening of the episodes, In for a Penny was brought forward by two weeks.
    • The entirety of the 2021 series was filmed with a virtual audience, which was a pig to police, requiring eight moderators each looking after forty people, each with a fader to mute, duck or isolate people as appropriate; the first episode was afflicted by excessive background noise, while the 'Win the Ads' participants got given 75 seconds instead of 60 seconds and one poor lady on episode two's Sing-a-long had her answer initially marked incorrect due to an internet lag.
    • In for a Penny series 2 was bumped earlier, to help fill gaps when Saturday Night Takeaway lost its studio. Series 3 was recorded in summer 2020 and shown the following spring, Stephen Mulhern and his contestants kept a suitable distance from each other. Stephen dons gloves for some games - resembling his jacket, they're gold sparkling gloves.
  • Panellists socially distanced on Sorry, I Didn't Know; the pandemic may have been a factor in commissioning, as panel shows are cheap to make.
  • The Voice UK was also mid-series when the pandemic was announced, having already filmed the pre-recorded episodes for this and a series of The Voice Kids. They finished airing the battle rounds, as they had already started, but they could not film the live semi-final and final, which were replaced by two The Voice UK: Most Memorable Moments compilation episodes, presented by Production resumed in October; like Britain's Got Talent, there was a catch-up edition, The Voice UK: The Semi Finalists, which aired on 31 October, and when live shows resumed the following week Meghan Trainor had to join the show by videolink. None of the judges would have been allowed to celebrate on stage had their act won. In addition, all post-March episodes used a virtual audience. In addition, Meghan cited travel restrictions as a factor in her resignation statement.
    • The Voice Kids finals did air as planned, as restrictions had calmed down enough for filming to resume, but the final was prerecorded, and used a virtual audience.
  • Contestants on the first series of Paul Sinha's TV Showdown were separated by perspex, and were a long way away from the host. It also lacked an audience, due to being shot during the second lockdown. The second series just put two metres between them.
  • Editions of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? broadcast between 7 September 2020 and 28 November 2021 replaced Ask the Audience with another 'phone a friend'. They also separated the contestants using perspex and bizarrely so; given that the show used to have ten contestants and now has six, there was clearly room to situate the contestant two metres apart.
    • Fastest Finger First, despite being announced in January 2022, used perspex to separate its contestants despite its parent quiz discontinuing the practice.
  • The X Factor was never going to make a series in 2020 anyway, but its planned 2021 series was bumped by a delayed first series of Starstruck, which was itself kicked over into '22, and which looked decidedly old-hat, having separated its panellists and its audience bubbles by perspex, and having made use of a virtual audience. The second series of Starstruck did away with perspex and sported a full audience.
    • The first two episodes of Simon Cowell's next show, Walk the Line, were delayed by seven minutes to accommodate waffle from Westminster politicians Johnson and Starmer. We'd rather have jeered at Gary Barlow. EPGs were not updated; almost as if ITV wants to deter its viewers from skipping its ads. The fourth and fifth episodes saw Alesha Dixon judging from home, as she'd been in close contact with someone who'd tested positive.
  • The Chase had a number of filming sessions postponed; Bradley Walsh estimated in late April that they were about 100 episodes behind schedule. The show aired repeats from mid-March, about ten weeks longer than recent years. That said, due to the erratic way new episodes air it is impossible to know whether or not anyone actually noticed any difference. They definitely noticed the massive desk used in civilian editions screened from 1 January 2021, with the contestants sitting between perspex, which frankly there was no need for since in the Australian version (and indeed, Winning Combination, made by the same company!) two of the contestants sit behind the other two - indeed, this longer desk wasn't used in the celebrity editions, as the celebrities were tested beforehand and formed a close contact cohort.
    • The second and third series of Beat the Chasers also forwent an audience due to restrictions at the time. The Chasers formed a close contact cohort. Darragh Ennis had to sit out series two, just in case it aired before Darragh's first The Chase did…
    • … but due to Anne Hegerty forgoing the fifth series as she had Covid, a very jetlagged Issa Schultz from The Chase Australia had to be introduced this way, as he was the only Chaser in the world who could get to England with 48 hours' notice.
  • Pairs on Lingo were in bubbles and were socially distanced from each other.

Lingo Physical distancing forced a well-spaced set.

  • Series two of SuperClarket Sweep also lacked an audience, although more obviously so than many other shows due to the contestants moving about the set. Once you've seen where the audience used to be, seeing Rylan gesturing at where the audience should be, and hearing a non-existent audience scream irrelevant instructions becomes downright irritating.
  • From the 2020 Christmas Cracker, Tenable stacked its contestants three in front of two, in a W shape. Delays to filming meant that Warwick couldn't host the final 25 episodes of the 2021 series as he was busy with pre-production of the Willow remake and couldn't fly back and forth, giving Sally Lindsay a job.
  • Tipping Point also went into repeats in late March. New Lucky Stars episodes from the 2020 Christmas special featured social distancing and also lacked its usual audience. New civilian episodes from 10 May 2021 stacked its contestants in an N-shape.
  • Winning Combination arranged its nine contestants in a WW shape, which frankly looked prettier anyway. Its first series used four N-shaped podiums and its second used a desk, with 'finallists' separated by well-hidden perspex.

Winning Combination Today, you are… socially distanced.

  • A series of Celebability was mounted with social distancing, with everyone between perspex. With applause only added where necessary, the rest of the show sounded really empty.
  • Celebrity Juice got halfway through filming series 23 before having to stop; two lockdown specials were produced, and the series only consisted of six episodes (including one compilation episode) whereas the previous year's spring series contained eleven. Series 24 and 25 put perspex between the panellists.
  • Dress to Impress's third series was delayed, presumably because it was felt that contestants wandering into shops was an unacceptable risk.
  • The third series of Don't Hate the Playaz had a smaller audience as a result of social distancing and bizarrely so, given that as it moved recording venues from the first series to the second it could have done so again to accommodate the extra space required.
  • The pandemic forced everyone on Don't Unleash the Beast to keep a distance from each other. The games were designed to keep people apart as much as possible: when one player retrieves bags, they throw it a short distance to another player, who relays it to the third player. There's no hugging, no high-fives, no fist-pumps, none of the closeness we'd expect from any television contest. Social distancing wasn't total, however; successful adventurers congregated outside the entrance.
  • Hey Tracey, one of the first shows back after the first lockdown, filmed entirely without an audience. Plus everyone was socially distanced. The average call centre agent was ruder towards the celebrities than in the previous series.
  • On Love Bites, the contestants cooked on separate worktops, with Scarlett Moffatt social distancing when milling around talking to them. In addition, the contestants social distanced when discussing the pickers, and dates were socially distanced.
  • ITV2 did not broadcast a summer series of Love Island in 2020 and did not air a winter series in 2021. The summer series was replaced with the first series of the Australian version, which was also filmed in Mallorca, three compilation episodes billed as containing "All the Dramz", "All the Feels" and "All the LOLs", the 2020 version of the American version and three "Where Are They Now?" episodes, whereas the winter 2021 series was replaced by the prerecorded The Cabins. 2020 was a particularly bad year for the show, regular host Caroline Flack died earlier in the year.

Channel 4

Channel 4, with no studio arm, was even more badly hit; the publisher-broadcaster announced in March that it would be reducing its content budget by £150 million, about 25% of its entire expenditure. It looks like the entertainment channel E4 will be badly hit, and there may be fewer commissions on More4. Interestingly, social distancing seemed to occur less often on this channel.

  • Mo Gilligan's All Star Happy Hour was a late-evening commission, starring stand-up comedian Mo Gilligan. Initially a live show, it will perhaps be remembered as much for the inevitable technical problems as for the entertainment.
  • The Big Fat Quiz of 2020 and 2020's Big Fat Quiz of Everything kept its panellists two metres apart and its teams separated by perspex. In addition, guests who would normally come into the show to ask questions prerecorded them from home. 2021's Big Fat Quizzes kept its panellists two metres apart, but reinstated the audience.
  • The new celebrity series of The Circle was delayed until 2021 and bizarrely so, as its participants are in isolation anyway. This, and series 3, both of which premiered in March 2021, were prerecorded as a result of the pandemic, in August 2020; probably a wise move, as the Malayalam and Canadian versions of Big Brother had to be truncated due to the pandemic. We would question whether anyone would want to be reminded of quarantine after all this is over though. (Evidently not, as the show's contract was not renewed.)
  • No episode of Hunted aired between March 2020 and January 2022. COVID oozed its way into the show in the 2023 celebrity run, after actor Nikesh Patel caught it and had to start late.
  • Filming of The Great British Bake Off was delayed from its usual late April to early July shooting period, and ended up beginning in early July; instead of it taking place across twelve or thirteen weekends, contestants lived in a biosecure "bubble", and took up to six weeks off. Broadcast of the series was delayed by exactly four weeks and fifteen minutes, to accommodate an announcement of increased restrictions. Traditionally, the series final has the winner being announced at a garden party for the contestants (including previously-eliminated ones) and their friends and family, but that was definitely not possible in 2020, and still impractical in 2021, so in both years the announcement took place in front of a crowd of the show's behind-the-scenes staff instead. The garden party returned in 2022.
    • In addition, An Extra Slice forwent an audience, and debriefing contestants were not given the opportunity to reattempt a bake that hadn't gone so well for them, as had been customary during previous series.
    • Prue Leith did not partake in series six of Junior Bake Off, as delays to filming resulted in schedule conflicts; she was replaced by Ravneet Gill. Broadcast was also delayed, by two months.
    • And Jeffery and Venus becoming Jeffery and Flora in episode two of the 2022 run of Bake Off: The Professionals and having to leave altogether before the start of episode three and episode six eliminating no-one, while described obliquely, had COVID written right the way through it.
  • The Great Pottery Throw Down took the "bubble" approach as well, but still succumbed to an unplanned suspension of filming during episode 4. As acknowledged on screen, a week separated the judging from the judges' chat and announcement of the results - and it was as a direct result of this that they decided not to make an elimination that week.

The Great Pottery Throwdown I suppose they'll just have to... potter about?

  • I Literally Just Told You used a small socially distanced masked audience. The advantage of this was that the guest celebrity stuck out a mile off.
  • Contestants on series 5 of Naked Attraction went on socially distanced dates. They were already in individual pods.
  • Filming of Stand Up and Deliver was delayed by the virus. When the show was announced, the premise - non-stand-ups performing stand-up comedy - came in for criticism, as stand-up comedy had been illegal for much of the pandemic. Comedians 'bubbled' with their contestants, but social distanced while on stage; the audience the contestants faced was part-socially distanced and part virtual.
  • Series 10 of Taskmaster was filmed without a studio audience, with audience reaction filmed later, and with the contestants 2m apart and with Greg switching places with his head so he and Alex could do the same. Series 11 and 12 and the 2021 "New Year Treat" were filmed with a 'live' virtual audience. Channel 4 had previously claimed that they wouldn't change the show after pilfering it from Dave, the liars. This is actually the second time the show's been impacted by disease outbreaks; one task in series four, intended to involve herding chickens (get three on a mat), had to be repurposed after an avian flu outbreak after which chickens were put under lockdown, and everyone other than Lolly Adefope had to instead herd dogs. In addition, social distancing disrupted the last few team tasks of series 10, which began filming before the pandemic, and all the tasks of series 11 and 12.
  • The Answer Trap lacked an audience and had its participants in bubbles. Cleverly, they put the screen between Bobby and Frank so it didn't look like they were that far apart.
  • The second series of Beat the Chef aired nearly two years after the first, premiering in May 2021; perhaps anticipating difficulties, when the show was recommissioned in February 2020, it sported a simplified format.
  • Participants on Chef v Corner Shop kept two metres away from Chizzy and from each other; viewers in Scotland, who had previously watched Corner Shop Cook-Off, would have found this sterile. Rather than have several members of the community congregate, the contest was judged only by the corner shop staff, as they were already in bubbles. Frankly, compared to hewing off five-eighths of the running time, these are tiny changes.
  • From 2 August 2021, Come Dine with Me had all of its contestants hold their dinner parties in the same place.
  • Countdown, for the first time since Series 61 in 2009, had to take a non-sports related break in the middle of Series 82, airing repeats between 4 May and 7 August, including 95% of the 30th Birthday Championship (two episodes were replaced by anniversary episodes after one of the contestants asked that their episodes not be repeated) and two Championships of Champions. Already a couple of months behind schedule as a result of Rachel Riley's pregnancy, Countdown dropped its audience from 20 April 2020, and did not reinstate it after the pandemic. Five episodes set to include Michael Whitehall as guardian of the dictionaries were unable to be recorded due to him dropping out. One episode had to be replaced last minute due to a comment Nick Hewer made that could have been perceived as insensitive, another episode lost one of its teatime teasers and another had Hewer's introductory chat with Al Murray cut due to possible association with the pandemic. This last episode, incidentally, was one of ten episodes critically affected by an administrative error. Bizarrely, they bolted the two series together as one roughly nine-month series despite the fact that Series 81 had enough room to accommodate nine octochamps, which meant one dipped out on the finals. Surely that was a sign that they needed to shorten the length of their series. In addition, the final dispensed with the awards ceremony.

Countdown Not shown: everyone's loudhailers.

    • In addition, for new editions broadcast between 10 August 2020 and 21 October 2022, the host moved to the right, and the left-hand sloped edge was extended to accommodate social distancing. Contestants briefly wrote with bold markers until everyone agreed they could read a normal biro at two metres perfectly well so let players hold up their solutions at their shoulder instead of passing across the table. Contestants used tabletop microphones rather than clip-on mikes. Plus they introduced a CGI conundrum instead of using eighteen physical tiles, which for the first 57 episodes back used a thicker font. Three of Phil Hammond's eight anecdotes were cut also, as Channel 4 opted not to mention COVID-19. The show only allowed contestants from within a 50-mile radius of MediaCityUK, with the exception of returning finalists.
    • When it became apparent that viewers were struggling to keep up with contestants, from 1 June More4 began repeating episodes from Series 78, originally broadcast from May and June 2018. We had feared they were warming the slot for a move - the other half of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown spent a series on More4 before moving to E4 - but it turns out we had nothing to worry about, since it survived ten episodes at 6:05 and overnight at 12:05 and another five at 12:05.
    • Oh, and editions filmed during the second, and some editions filmed during the third lockdowns (i.e. the December 2020 special episodes, regular episodes between 13 January and 9 February 2021 and regular episodes between 3 and 16 March 2021) had Colin Murray hosting rather than Nick; his forced break from the show contributed to his decision to leave the programme at the end of series 83. You would think, given that they needed a black host for Black Takeover Day, that they'd have got one in when Nick left to save themselves a third headhunt, but they opted not to do that. In addition, one recording block broadcast in August 2022 had interim interim hosts, as Colin Murray tested positive; Les Dennis, who was originally meant to be in Dictionary Corner, deputised for eight episodes, and got his mate Daniel Brocklebank to fill in for him for the first three and Jenny Eclair stood in for Colin for four episodes.
    • Episodes between 19 and 30 July, 13 and 17 December 2021 and 2 and 22 June 2022 did not feature Susie Dent as she was self-isolating; their episodes' guardians of the dictionaries filled in for a week each. Oddly, they still kept the asymmetric set even though there was only one person on that 'half' of the bench or even replace Dent with the producer, Damian Eadie, who had previously held that role. Dent's first fifteen absences were particularly poorly timed; Steph's Packed Lunch was not on air during those weeks and so they couldn't just extend that programme and thus had to fill up on chat.
    • Everyone on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown kept two metres away from each other with the exception of the guardian of the dictionaries, who was bookended by perspex, which looked weird. Even weirder was the second episode, where Jon Richardson had to keep two metres away from Lucy Beaumont, despite the fact that they live together. Episodes from 29 July 2022 discarded the perspex and kept everyone equidistant, at (we're guessing) slightly less than two metres apart. We also don't recall seeing Jimmy's end being rectangular instead of fading to the floor.
  • The painters on Drawers Off kept two metres apart, which created a problem for those painting from the sides called foreshortening, whereby things looked like they were out of proportion. The second series, shot post-pandemic, got proper life models in, which allowed the viewer to think the lack of them in the first series was to reduce the number of people 'on site'.
  • The week commencing 1 March 2021 of Four in a Bed was battered by the pandemic, with the first two episodes shot just before production shut down, and the last three shot four months later. As a result, the participants in the first edition had to drop out; the remaining three episodes were shot with only three pairs, and with social distancing. At least they were honest about contestant availability - Pointless wasn't.
  • In Mend It for Money, several sellers had to be told about the fact that their item had sold via laptops. The menders, when the seller was deciding which one to pick, one stood 2m behind the other.
  • Moneybags kept its players apart by perspex, although that may have been no bad thing, particularly given how much the contestants move about. The final four episodes of series two were guest hosted by Kevin Duala rather than Craig Charles due to COVID.


  • The pause allowed for some Welsh-language quizzes recorded at people's homes. Television quiz Be' Ti'n Gwylio? had fixed cameras, like on Gogglebox or The Button, while sports quiz Gêm Gartre used webcams and Zoom. Neither series returned for a second run.
  • Côr Cymru didn't hold a series in 2021, it was dangerous to expose so many people to so much exhaled breath. They brought the series back in 2022.
  • Hewlfa Drysor, the treasure hunt in your own car, filmed its series in August 2020. It was barely changed from the prior year's pilot: we only know there's a pandemic on because the contestants don't come close to the characters on the route.
  • S4C withdrew from the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, explicitly citing health concerns due to the pandemic.
  • Oci Oci Oci! wanted to continue its tour of village halls in summer 2020, but would have been in empty rooms, devoid of any atmosphere. We had to wait until 2022 for Eleri and Ifan's show to come to town.
  • Children's show Un Cwestiwn delayed its third series from January to September 2021. Only six took part in each episode, rather than eight in prior series.


  • A League of Their Own resumed filming without James Corden due to his commitments to his Yankee talk show and without an audience, but did at least use a studio. The last two episodes of the 2021 run had Flintoff and Redknapp contributing remotely as they were self-isolating.
  • Artist of the Year ran a miniseries in April-May, Portrait Artist of the Week, involving celebrities sitting live from their homes behind a video camera, and its judges selecting highlights of each week. A highlights series was aired by Sky Arts at the end of the series. When Portrait Artist of the Year returned in October, there was no audience, everybody social distanced, and Joan Bakewell didn't partake. Finallists on the show had traditionally been sent out to meet a public figure and create a portrait at home without the usual time constraints; Covid restrictions led to 2020's finallists being asked to paint a friend or family member instead, a change which has been retained ever since.
  • Comedians Giving Lectures had its recordings postponed; series two and three were filmed back to back in 2021. Although the episodes featured a full audience, presumably to allow for the possibility of restrictions being brought in mid-series, the winner was decided by Sara Pascoe.
  • The Comedy Central game shows Comedy Game Night, Growing Pains and Guessable were shot with social distancing and without an audience. The latter was made up to look like someone's loft, so it might have been a bit of a squeeze for an audience.

Guessable What do you mean, you have no other rooms big enough?

  • Hypothetical also had its recordings postponed. When recordings resumed, half of the audience watched in the studio and half watched via a screen in the Pinewood cinema. The plan had been to broadcast the new series in late 2020, but instead it had to wait until February 2021. In addition, James and Josh kept two metres away from each other; panellists were already spaced that far apart anyway. Josh and James kept two metres away in series four because they liked it.
  • Lovestruck High's planned filming dates for summer 2020 and early 2021 were lost to COVID.
  • Never Mind the Buzzcocks' first revival series separated its panellists and identity parade suspects by perspex.
  • A Richard Ayoade pilot had to wait more than six months before it could be filmed, and changed its name from "Who's Asking" to "Question Team". Its first series lacked an audience.
  • The first series of Sign2Win, shot in January 2022, separated its contestants by perspex, and its host from the contestants by an expanse of empty floor.
  • There's Something About Movies resumed filming with social distancing and a virtual audience. We're surprised it couldn't wait, since most new movie launches apparently can.
  • Unforgivable was delayed from the day after the first lockdown was called to just before the second lockdown, and thus sported a small audience. Panellists were two metres apart too.


  • Brain of Britain was caught short when things came to a halt. The show aired the six heats recorded in March, then went off air for twelve weeks. It was replaced by My Generation, where all the players stay safe at home. The 3rd Degree had been recorded in universities early in the year, and aired five weeks earlier than expected. Brain of Britain resumed on 10 August, without an audience; one would return for the 2021 final.
  • Breaking the News, a Radio Scotland show whose recordings are normally also filmed for broadcast on BBC Scotland, returned on radio as scheduled with the guests appearing from home, but no TV version. Like the other topical panel games on this list, it suffered for the lack of a studio audience. It did manage to get panellists in to the studio for an end-of-year special broadcast on both radio and TV (all at separate, appropriately distanced desks), but still without an audience.
  • Counterpoint started its 2020-21 series with three contestants and host Paul Gambaccini keeping their distance in a BBC studio, with no audience. With restrictions tightening, a further block of episodes was made with Paul in a BBC studio and the contestants at home; by the last heats, everyone was recording from home. Perhaps anticipating this necessity, the final round had changed from a buzzer race to a one-minute solo sprint.
    • The 2022 series was hit by the omicron variant: episodes 5 and 6 were recorded from people's homes, and reverted to an individual one-minute sprint in the final round. Episodes 7 to 9 were the annual pilgrimage to Salford, where a small audience made a lot of noise.
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue lost four of the six episodes it was due to record in March 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Regular panellist Tim Brooke-Taylor died in April after contracting the virus — we have an obituary for him here. The spring series was replaced by a tribute to Tim, and compilation episodes from the series' past. Those two episodes from March, and four new ones recorded with the panelists at home, were aired in December.
  • The 2021 series of Just a Minute was played remotely over video-conferencing software, with a virtual audience. Many technical faults made it to air, and we suspect Nicholas Parsons dodged something of a bullet.
  • The News Quiz, Quote... Unquote, and The Unbelievable Truth all returned with the host and panellists contributing from home.
    • Andy Zaltzman hosted the first three episodes of The News Quiz for 2022 from Australia - the new regular host was also the on-air statistician for the Ashes cricket tour. We suspect they wouldn't have done this long-distance recording before the pandemic.
  • Round Britain Quiz's 2021 series was also recorded from the participants' homes. Tom Sutcliffe, the show's host, noted how they were going back to the show's wartime origins - back then, they had teams from London and New York.
  • Stuck without any live sport to talk about, radio station Talk Sport gave us a sports quiz. The Talk Sport Quiz had no budget and plenty of charm.


  • Tom Moore, who appeared on Terry Wogan's last edition of Blankety Blank, was knighted after raising over £33,000,000 for the NHS in response to the COVID crisis. Matt Lucas's "Thank You Baked Potato", from Shooting Stars, was rereleased to raise money for the NHS; both his song and Moore's version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" spent separate weeks at number one on the UK Singles Sales Chart in April 2020.
  • As well as the aforementioned Tim Brooke-Taylor, sometime Gag Tag team captain Eddie Large died on 2 April 2020, Cannon and Ball's Casino co-host Bobby Ball died on 28 October 2020, Tom Moore died on 2 February 2021, Treasure Hunt pirate Jethro died on 14 December 2021 and Popstar to Operastar judge Meat Loaf died on 20 January 2022, all with COVID-19. We have an obituary for Bobby Ball here.


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