Watching TV news, it’s obvious that coronavirus has led to small but significant changes on set. What’s less obvious is what’s happening behind the scenes: Outlets have sent large swaths of their employees home to work remotely amid the spread of the coronavirus.
NBC hosts Al Roker and Craig Melvin didn’t appear on “Today” Monday after a staffer tested positive for coronavirus, but the rest of the cast stayed behind to carry on and explain their absence. CBS News’ Seth Doane spoke on the network’s programming Monday about his own diagnosis. He later tweeted about why he’s doing on-air appearances instead of just laying low: “I thought it was important to be open about testing positive for #COVIDー19 – This is a serious virus with possibly deadly consequences.. and even if you only have mild symptoms (like me) it’s essential we take quarantine seriously and stop the spread of the virus.”
On CNN, anchors are interviewing more and more remote guests. The few who appear in-studio are seated noticeably far from their interviewers. On Fox News, that same dynamic was extremely apparent Monday afternoon as the couch on the “Outnumbered” set was missing three hosts, as was the table on “The Five.” Usually, the 12 p.m. ET and 5 p.m. ET shows have five hosts, all packed in next to each other. Monday, however, only Harris Faulkner and Melissa Francis appeared in the studio for “Outnumbered” while Dana Perino and Greg Gutfeld were seated at the table for “The Five” — and they were 6 feet apart from one another, per the “social distancing” standard. Three co-hosts for each show beamed in remotely from other studios.
“To maintain connection and credibility with the audience, it’s important to adhere to the same CDC and White House social distancing guidelines, as I broadcast daily,” Faulkner later told TheWrap. “The slimmer staffed shows are a necessary way to stay healthy while giving our beloved loyal audience the iconic fiery debate and ‘news with heat’ they’re used to!”
Fox News started “reducing the staff footprint” at its New York bureau Monday, with “all of those departments capable of doing so” sending staff home to telecommute, according to an all-staff internal memo sent last week. So, too, did WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, according to an internal email from network president Jeff Zucker reviewed by TheWrap.
“Obviously, given the many programming needs across News and Sports, there are some employees for which this is simply not possible,” wrote Zucker. “In fact, CNN is very different from almost any other part of the company, especially right now, and there are some roles that will continue to require your presence in the office.”
He continued, “So, if you have a job that REQUIRES you to physically be in the office, or at any other location, in order to perform your duties, your manager will be in touch about your specific arrangements. With that said, anyone who feels uncomfortable coming into the office, regardless of your job requirements, should speak to their manager or HR.”
Publicity and social media teams, as well as reporters, are working from home across the networks, but for producers and anchors, the shows must go on… with a little on-air restructuring.