With the sudden uptick in new confirmed 2019 novel coronavirus cases here in the Philippines, various sectors of the nation have been forced to take drastic steps. The core guiding principle in these measures is to minimize risk in contracting COVID-19 by socially distancing individuals and doing away with mass gatherings: concerts, classes, spectators in sports, and even live studio audiences for television programs. The noontime variety shows of the major networks have announced their barring of audiences for taping this week, first with GMA7’s “Eat Bulaga” and then with ABS-CBN’s “It’s Showtime.” The effects of having no audience crowd particularly for the latter program, was very startling in practice.

As ABS-CBN News tells it, the first taping this week of “It’s Showtime” without a live studio audience, this Tuesday March 10, was an exercise in contrast to the normal airings in past weeks, where the “madlang people” was an indelible fixture to the show proceedings. But because of measures being implemented to cut down on large assemblies where the novel coronavirus is likely to spread, the Kapamilya noontime variety show is doing its part to help curb the occurrence of new COVID-19 cases, even if the hosts and auditioned contestants are all alone onstage.

Right from the start when the “It’s Showtime” theme song was sung, the difference was made glaringly obvious. To make up the numbers, the contestants for the “PiLing Lucky” segment, plus the behind the scenes production crew, had to join in the singing as led by hosts Jhong Hilario, Vice Ganda, and Vhong Navarro. The “PiLing Lucky” contestants were determined by pre-draw and informed ahead of their scheduled appearance, so they and the contestants for other segments were the only ones outside the show to appear onstage, and only when their respective segments were starting.

In addition to the cutting down on crowds by excluding the audience from the program, the conclusion of “PiLing Lucky” for the day also demonstrated a new safety measure proposed by the Department of Health (DOH) for people to follow: social distancing. When contestant Danica won her P200,000 cash prize, the hosts hesitated and drew back from giving her a hug in congratulations. And during host banter when jokes were being cracked, the figurative crickets were plain with the lack of audience reaction. The “It’s Showtime” crew tried to compensate by using the empty audience stands as a field to do a merry chase between Vice and Jhong, which was both hilarious and visibly off-putting.

The avoidance of crowded gatherings and social distancing to prevent physical contact between persons are but the first of a new normal for Filipino lives in this time of great caution on account of COVID-19. Only time will tell how long audience-less TV variety shows have to keep this up.

Image courtesy of Yahoo News