By Joe Flint and R.T. Watson 

LOS ANGELES -- Television shows are going on emergency hiatus. Movie releases are being delayed. There is talk of shutting down production entirely.

The entertainment industry is reeling amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a business where deals are drummed up over in-person lunches and productions involving dozens or hundreds of people are commonplace, day-to-day activity is grinding to a halt, leaving moguls and C-listers alike living out scenes no one could have scripted just a few weeks ago.

Netflix Inc. is suspending production of some shows, including "Grace and Frankie," a person familiar with the situation said Friday. Comcast Corp.'s television production unit, Universal Television, said Thursday it is pausing production for two weeks. The number of shows affected is about 35, a person familiar with the matter said. Production on Apple TV+'s drama "The Morning Show" was closed for two weeks.

The majority of talk shows and game shows have temporarily stopped filming in front of studio audiences. NBC gave its late-night stars Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers next week off and both shows were already scheduled to be dark the week of March 23.

"Panic" was how the head of one talent agency described the mood. A talk-show producer preparing to do shows without a studio audience, or even possibly guests on the couch, called it "uncharted territory."

The entertainment industry has seen an explosion of programming, so much so that many consumers have been overwhelmed with options. The virus-related production shutdowns, combined with the cancellation of major sporting events this week, are an unexpected twist, narrowing the fresh content available. Still, for households in quarantine, there will be plenty of new TV available for the foreseeable future. And streaming services and cable will still offer a deep reservoir of old episodes and movies to binge on, regardless of how much new production gets halted and how long the suspensions last.

Like much of the business world, entertainment companies are shutting their doors temporarily. Netflix has closed one of its Los Angeles offices and is encouraging staffers to work from home. Other studios and networks are recommending the same. Talent agencies are also closing shop for now.

Meanwhile, major movie theaters are increasingly likely to shut down temporarily, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Major movie studios on Thursday postponed release dates for movies scheduled for the coming weeks, seeking a hedge against rolling out a product that cost millions of dollars during a time of crisis.

The effects are going to be long-term.

"A lot of films are not going to get made, release commitments are not going to get met, actors aren't going to show up," said Schuyler Moore, an entertainment lawyer and partner at Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles. "It's going to be a really chaotic period in Hollywood."

Disney suspended plans to put out three major movies: "Mulan," "The New Mutants" and "Antlers." It hopes to reschedule them for later this year, according to a person with knowledge of the company's plans.

Disney is also pausing production on several live-action films, including "The Little Mermaid," which was to begin shooting in London next week, "Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings" and "Home Alone," according to a person familiar with the situation.

Major studios are scrambling to figure out what to do with the big franchise movies they had planned to open in theaters in the coming weeks. Comcast's Universal Pictures bumped the Fast & Furious sequel "F9" to April 2021, from this May. ViacomCBS Inc.'s Paramount Pictures pulled the release date for the thriller "A Quiet Place Part II," which had been scheduled to open March 20, without setting a new date.

At numerous TV networks and studios, executives were trying to determine the potential impact of production suspensions on both the current television season and the next one. Even if the studios, networks and streamers don't want to shut down a show, the locales where they film may do it for them. In New York City, new guidelines will make it difficult to keep production going. In Los Angeles, the city doesn't want gatherings of more than 50 people, which would put a halt to most productions.

Already, the CW Network's hit show "Riverdale" shut down production after a worker was exposed to another person who tested positive for the virus, according to Warner Bros., which produces the show. "Riverdale" was in the midst of shooting one of the final episodes of the current season, the rest of which might be scrapped, a person close to the show said.

The ABC drama "Grey's Anatomy" also ceased production Thursday. In a statement, the producers said the move was made in accordance with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's suggestion that people not gather in groups of more than 50.

The production arms of ViacomCBS's CBS, sister cable channel Showtime and Paramount TV studio said they, too, have postponed production on several shows.

CBS said there will be no new episodes of "Late Show with Stephen Colbert" after this week through March 30.

"I wish I could stay on stage to share this uncertain moment with you, but I don't do this show alone, and I have to do what's best for my staff. Hope to be back soon," Mr. Colbert tweeted.

On Thursday night's show, Mr. Colbert raced up and down a mostly empty auditorium screaming "Woo hoo!" as if the theater were packed.

A shutdown in TV production could dramatically affect next fall's TV season if it were to drag on longer than four months. Productions on pilots -- the test episodes for potential new TV series -- is just getting under way. Typically pilots are finished by May and then the networks decide which shows will be on their schedules. Production begins in July.

Another ritual that has been disrupted is the annual "upfront" presentations networks make to advertisers touting their new lineups. Over the past several days, CBS, NBC, Fox and the CW, as well as cable networks, canceled their festivities.

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 13, 2020 15:17 ET (19:17 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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