BBC’s Question Time to lose studio audience during coronavirus outbreak

Fiona Bruce presenting Question Time
Image caption Fiona Bruce has hosted Question Time since David Dimbleby stood down last year

Question Time, the BBC’s flagship political debate programme, will proceed without an audience during the coronavirus outbreak.

The show, which normally sees political figures and commentators take questions from a studio audience, will also move to a prime time 20:00 slot on BBC One.

The practicalities of how to continue taking questions is “still being worked on”, BBC media editor Amol Rajan said.

Other changes to BBC news programmes are expected to be announced later.

Major news bulletins will be spared, said Rajan, but many other programmes will “initially be cut down” with “further phases as the virus spreads”.

Question Time’s next episode is due to be filmed in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, on Thursday.

The programme, which is currently hosted by Fiona Bruce, has been running since 1979.

Other shows, including ITV’s Loose Women and Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine, have already opted to film without a studio audience as the virus spreads; while filming on dramas like Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty has been suspended. The Bafta TV Awards have been postponed until later in the year.

In the US, Sunday’s debate between prospective presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden was also conducted without a studio audience, for the first time since 1976.

Media reports were broadly in favour of the format, enforced though it was, saying it improved the quality of debate because the candidates stopped playing to the crowd.

“The question of who won could be decided less by how the candidates performed and more by what they said.” wrote Slate’s Fred Kaplan.

“After the coronavirus scare is over, all debates should be done this way.”

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