Thursday night proved to be a historic one for late-night television. The majority of late-night shows announced that starting next week their programs would be moving forward without a live studio audience in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. However, several networks decided to pull the plug on the live audiences on Thursday instead.
The move caught many hosts and their staff off-guard as decisions were made just hours before tapings and live shows were set.
The Late Show With Stephen Colbert used footage from its rehearsal for the actual show. Host Colbert tried to keep the mood light, regularly drinking bourbon and joking, "What am I supposed to do? There's no more Purell. I'm hoping to drink enough of this that I just sweat out the sterilizing."
He addressed the lack of audience, saying, "As you may have noticed, none of you are here right now. The only people in the audience right now are some members of my staff. Hi, guys."
Colbert went on to note, "Let me explain what's going on. All of the New York City late-night shows were planning to go without audiences starting Monday. We announced that last night, actually. That changed because just a few hours ago we got some surprising news. We would be going without an audience starting tonight. This is absolutely true. We're just kind of winging it. This is rehearsal right now, which might be a good thing because in my mind, all my jokes are perfect. The only person who ever disagrees with me is the audience."
Colbert later took to Twitter, revealing that The Late Show will not be returning next week.
"Hi Folks. We have a new show tonight w no audience, but we cancelled next week’s shows before our scheduled break," he wrote. "I wish I could stay on stage to share this uncertain moment w 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."
Hi Folks. We have a new show tonight w no audience, but we cancelled next week’s shows before our scheduled break. I wish I could stay on stage to share this uncertain moment w 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.— Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome) March 13, 2020
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was also without a live audience, and host Fallon had to deliver his jokes with just his staff, The Roots band, and longtime pal and co-star Steve Higgins.
"As of this morning we planned to do a show with a full audience but as the day progressed and the more we thought about it, we and NBC decided it would be smarter to not have an audience in order to do our part to help decrease the spread of the coronavirus," Fallon explained. "So the show is going to be a little bit different than it normally is. Like you, I'm watching the news and I'm just as confused and freaked out as you are... but what I do know is when we're there for each other, we're at our best. And I am here for you, we are here for you."
Meanwhile on Jimmy Kimmel Live, former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg filled in for Kimmel as a guest host. Buttigieg explained what was going on, and used a laugh track to help with the awkward silences.
"This is a strange night for us, not only because this is my first time hosting a talk show, but because we are doing it without a regular studio audience," Buttigieg, who dropped out of the 2020 presidential race last week, explained. "Due to public health concerns over the coronavirus, we have canceled the studio audience tonight. But a few kind Kimmel staffers and some friends, my husband, Chasten, are all here instead. We're gonna have a great time. Everyone is spread apart at the CDC recommended distance. This was not our plan. We just decided this a few hours ago. And it's disappointing because as you all know, I love to crowd surf, it's kind of my thing."
He also couldn't help but take a jab at President Donald Trump, joking, "When you don't have a real audience, you have to fake one, just like Trump's inauguration."
The Late Late Show With James Corden had been pre-taped with a live studio audience on Wednesday, but Corden still took the time to offer some words of comfort to his viewers.
"It's been a scary time these past few weeks. It feels like the news cycle is moving at a rate that none of us have ever experienced before... I'm sure a lot of you are feeling frightened, you're feeling vulnerable at the moment and we want to take a minute to say, just know that you are not alone," the British host said. "In all of this we are feeling the same thing... All of us have got to listen to the instructions that have been given about hygiene, about staying home if you don't feel well. Take this moment, this time to really look after yourself, to look after each other."
He also went on to joke about the upcoming audience-free episodes, saying, "I'm used to doing this show without a television audience, but normally there's an audience here in the studio... We love you so much and we're going to be here every night trying to make you laugh and trying to bring a bit of light and levity to your day whenever we can."
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, many events, filming on shows and movies, and release dates have been pushed back or cancelled. For more, watch the clip below: