On Monday evening, “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” confirmed the shows had suspended filming in front of live studio audiences to prevent spreading the novel coronavirus to vulnerable people who might show up to a taping at Sony Pictures Studio in Culver City, Calif.
“Out of an abundance of caution due to the spread of covid-19, we have decided to cancel audience attendance for the tapings of ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy!’ for the time being,” a person close to “Jeopardy!” told The Washington Post Monday.
The cautious approach may protect audience members as well as the hosts and announcers, some of whom belong to high-risk populations that have been issued special precautions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Jeopardy!” announcer Gilbert and “Wheel of Fortune” hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White are all older than 60, which the CDC says puts them at “higher risk of getting very sick from covid-19.”
Trebek, the 79-year-old host of “Jeopardy!,” is doubly vulnerable because of his age and his recent cancer treatments. Since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, he has been undergoing chemotherapy, which can compromise the immune system.
Fans’ love for the “Jeopardy!” staples was obvious Monday, when many reacted to the news by cheering the producers’ decision to limit exposure to the public on the show’s set. “Protect Alex Trebek at all costs” became a common refrain on social media.
I've seen concern for Alex Trebek and his health but let us not forget this is also a wise move to protect stalwart announcer Johnny Gilbert, who is *NINETY-FIVE YEARS OLD* and still reading out names and occupations and doing crowd banter https://t.co/YbbQzK5Au6— Jennifer Morrow (@jenniferemorrow) March 10, 2020
Staying home sick and watching game shows is a sentimental memory that many Americans share. The nostalgia is so strong that a contestant on “The Price Is Right” once gave a shout-out to “all the sick kids” while perfectly spinning the Big Wheel. NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” commemorated the shared experience with a scene where character Ben Wyatt, portrayed by Adam Scott, is moved to happy tears when a game show comes on a hospital TV while he’s being treated for kidney stones.
People stuck at home now, either because of a doctor-ordered quarantine or a voluntary one, need a way to occupy all of the time they would normally spend commuting and working. Many have turned to television and streaming services like Netflix, which received a stock market boost last week as companies and schools told people to stay home. Those who choose to watch these game shows might notice the change.
“Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” attract studio audiences that skew older and frequently come from out of state to watch the exciting competitions. The CDC has identified those two factors as heightening the risks of coronavirus spread.
Even if the shows only pulled in local audience members, California has the third-highest number of covid-19 cases in the nation. Los Angeles County, which includes Culver City where the popular game shows film, has reported 19 cases of covid-19. The county’s first community-spread infection was reported Monday.
Game shows aren’t the only sector of the entertainment industry to suffer inconveniences and losses because of the coronavirus. CBS shut down filming of “The Amazing Race,” which sends competitors traveling across the globe, because of fears about the virus, Variety reported. A major conference for the industry, South by Southwest, was canceled last week. Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle was postponed until summer, assuming the outbreak has subsided by then. Tours have been canceled or put off by musicians including Green Day, Pearl Jam, K-pop superstars BTS and Madonna.
Neither “Jeopardy!” nor “Wheel of Fortune” specified how long the crews will keep the public off the game-show sets. And, as The Post reported last week, no one knows exactly when outbreak to end, either by being contained or becoming so common its spread is unavoidable.