ITV's Who Wants to be a Millionaire? made a splash this month after a contestant went all the way to win one million pounds for the first time since 2006.
But the Jeremy Clarkson hosted series was also memorable because it was one of the first entertainment shows to return to production after Covid-19 lockdown measures eased in the summer.
Produced by Stellify from the Sony Pictures format, the series filmed in July at dock10 without a studio audience, and followed strict government guidelines around social distancing.
Stellify had begun researching and casting for Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in January, and had been set to shoot in April.
"We had to pause production until government advice allowed us to go back into the studio," recalls line manager Clair Carney.
dock10, she says, allowed the show to contingency plan and to pencil in dates in May, June and July, dependent on when Covid-19 restrictions might be eased.
When lockdown finally eased, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was in a very strong position to return to the studio quickly in July as it had already completed key elements such as casting.
But first, key changes to the production were needed. "It was evident that there was no way we could have a studio audience," says Carney. That was not necessarily a problem though.
So the show's production and lighting designers adapted the set, as well as adding more graphics. "When you watch, I don't think you really notice there isn't an audience," says Carney. "The format actually works in our favour, as we don't really rely on audience interaction all the time like some other shows. Instead, viewers are interested in the play of the contestant, and their interaction with Jeremy."
Obviously, however, the famous 'Ask the Audience' lifeline had to be dropped. Each contestant still had four lifelines though: 50:50, Ask The Host and two opportunities to Phone A Friend.
Behind the scenes, there were further changes so the show adhered to Covid-19 safety guidelines.
"It was challenging," says Carney. "You have to really question everything you normally take for granted as a normal process for making TV."
Ahead of production, Stellify turned to industry safety consultants First Option for advice, and also consulted with ITV and dock10 which had both drawn up extensive production safety guidelines. Stellify also hired its own Covid-19 supervisor for the shoot.
"We had to do a lot of groundwork to look at how each department worked," says Carney. At every point, health and safety was considered, right down to the smallest detail: from how contestants and crew got to the studio, through to catering, hair and make-up, and spaces between desks in the production office.
dock10 also provided Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with a bigger studio than usual to help with distancing. Carney says the work that dock10 had already done to put in place extensive safety guidelines at the studio was also reassuring. "We felt very safe going back to work at dock10. Everybody on the production felt very safe."
Carney points out that the size of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? team – at about 55 people - arguably made it easier for the show to return to production quicker than some other productions. "We're quite a small studio team for such a big programme...and we haven't got huge volumes of people on the set when we are recording."
The show's team is also split quite naturally into certain groups that rarely come into contact with others, such as casting, the contestants or crew in the production gallery. Again, these 'bubbles' helped with social distancing.
One of the key changes to ensure safe working was to allow more time in the schedule for the shoot, in particular during the rig and de-rig of the set.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is also edited at dock10. During post-production, only one person was allowed in an edit suite at a time, while viewings would take place in bigger rooms. The show's execs could also remotely view and sign off each episode.
This included, of course, the episode that saw teacher Donald Fear win the top £1 million prize, the sixth contestant do so in the show's 22 year history in the UK. "It was just great, and a bit of a blur, to be honest," recalls Carney. "After everything with Covid-19, and getting the show back up and running, it was such an amazing thing to have happened in such difficult times."
Photo credit: Stellify, Photographer Rachel Joseph