“America’s Got Talent” was among the numerous film and TV productions to shut down in March amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
After months of non-activity, the show resumed production last week, with some pretty drastic changes in place to address social-distancing protocols mean to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Deadline, the show was able to tape its first six audition episodes before production was suspended, and then faced the challenge of how to resume for the live shows in the midst of the pandemic.
As a result, the live episodes will be filmed outdoors on “a huge outdoor movie stage that was created to look like an drive-in movie theatre.” The show’s four judges — Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Sofia Vergara — will arrive in separate cars, and will sit on socially distanced directors chairs while watching the acts. There will be no audience.
Cowell told Deadline there was a “real buzz of excitement” to get back into production. “I could see the relief on the crews faces that they were back at work and then we turned around the corner to the set we’d built and it was honestly one of the most amazing experiences I can remember for a long time,” he said.
Other measures put in place are regular testing, talent handling their own microphones and a new “pod system,” with “each pod assigned to a particular area of production” within “a specific zone,” with people communicating via walkie talkie to those in other pods. Meanwhile, everyone — including the judges and host Terry Crews — wear masks, with the exception of when they’re on camera.
“If we thought anyone was at risk, we wouldn’t film,” added Cowell. “So as long as you know that people are safe, fortunately everyone who was on the lot was tested, will be tested and are continually tested. Once you know you’ve got that part and it works then the second part is putting on the show. You learn very, very quickly to adapt and the show will feel different but hopefully people will still enjoy watching a new version of the show with the principals of the show still intact.”
Cowell also addressed the new pandemic-inspired format via an email to USA Today. “As bad as it is, you always have to find a solution to get back to work. I have sympathy for so many people in this situation, but if our show is an example, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s different, but hopefully it will still be as popular,” he said.
Vergara also shared her thoughts, admitting that she and her fellow judges “definitely missed the audience and their energy. At the beginning, when I was just getting into the groove of the show, I looked to them a lot to see how they were responding to the acts. I know some of the acts were nervous about not performing in front of an audience, but I think they all did really well given the circumstances.”
According to “AGT” producer Jason Raff, the crew has been happy with the safety measure put in place. “The crew was telling us they felt safer there than when they go to the grocery store,” Raff added.