BBC One's A Question of Sport, the longest continually running quiz show on TV, is back up and running at dock10 studios following a brief hiatus due to coronavirus.
The iconic quiz show began 2020 by celebrating its 50th anniversary in January. However, the Covid-19 crisis has led some of the most significant changes to the BBC Studios production in its long history, both on and off screen.
A Question of Sport recorded eight episodes at dock10 in March, just before the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, enough to allow the show to remain on air during the summer months.
Hosted by Sue Barker alongside regular team captains Matt Dawson and Phil Tufnell, A Question of Sport finally returned to dock10 this month to record another ten episodes.
Executive producer Gareth Edwards says coronavirus shooting guidelines led to two big 'obstacles' for the production team to overcome so they could make the series safely.
Firstly, the show had to shoot without an audience for the first time in its history. "There's usually about 250 people in the audience, and they play a big part in the show, giving it a live theatre feel," says Edwards, who worried that the comedy and humour that is so integral to A Question of Sport would feel flat without the teams and audience bouncing off each other.
However, regular guests on the show said they were more relaxed taking part, likening it to a quiz they'd play with friends and family on Christmas day. "It's not that they wouldn't want an audience back. But not having an audience gave it a more intimate feel," says Edwards.
Secondly, each team member needed to be two metres apart – a big challenge for a show whose long-running format sees team mates work closely together.
So new desks were built to make sure the panelists were socially distanced.
The gameplay was also tweaked. Historically, each team will confer quietly together to work out an answer. If they're wrong, the other team can try to answer the same question for a bonus point. However, with teammates sat so far apart, such quiet conferring would be impossible and would hand the rival team a possible answer.
So the long-standing bonus point has been dropped from the socially distant version of A Question of Sport. Instead, the team captains and guests are encouraged to have their discussions out loud – something the production team have actively encouraged to help compensate for the lack of an audience. "We dropped the bonus point for fairness in the first instance," says Edwards. "But because we were lacking 250 people in the audience, we wanted to make sure there was an atmosphere in the studio still."
Edwards has also worked with the show's directors, and camera, sound and lighting teams to make it look as if the team mates are not so isolated on screen. "There were a few clever camera angles that we would use, not to cheat the fact they are two metres apart – because that's quite clear on the wider shots – but to give a sense that they are a team."
"I was quite insistent that we weren't hiding the fact that they were all distant, or that there was no audience. We wanted to celebrate that fact."
He says that he and A Question of Sport's production team felt safe filming at dock10, having been in regular contact to discuss Covid-19 shooting guidelines before returning to the studio. "Everyone took it so seriously. It wasn't for the first hour that everyone was abiding by the guidelines and distancing rules. That was maintained from the first minute to the last minute."
For those who were unable to make it to the studio for health reasons, dock10 also provided a remote viewing feed that allowed them watch episodes being recorded remotely. "I was hugely impressed," says Edwards. "There was no drop out or time delay. It was so smooth, like being in the room."
Dock10's remote viewing platform is just one of many technical innovations that iconic shows like A Question of Sport have rapidly adopted to keep the cameras rolling during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first of these socially distant episodes will be broadcast on Friday September 4th at 20.30 on BBC1.