There’s no business like show business, only now there’s no show business either, and precious little sport. Our shared distractions have been sacrificed to the pandemic, lending the wrong kind of certainty to once precarious incomes. Performers of all stripes have learned something that only tour-hardened stand-ups, unheralded support acts and fringe theatre groups knew before: the physical presence of an attentive audience, assembled in close proximity, can’t ever be taken for granted.

Even in the abruptly more crucial sphere of television, the live audiences that viewers at home see on screen have either been uninvited or siloed across the retractable studio seats. In a clip not lacking in macabre humour, actor-turned-presenter Whoopi Goldberg was seen hollering “Well, hello, hello, hello and welcome to The View, y’all, welcome to The View” as the New York talk show’s cameras panned the bum-free plastic tiers. This was how it was going to be from now on, Goldberg explained to her dazed fellow panellists.

“No audience, no house band, no close contact. This is what social distancing looks like, and yes, it’s a strange, eerie feeling”

That was as long ago as last Wednesday. By Friday it was the turn of The Late Late Show (the Irish one) to set a visual tone. “What can I say? This is without doubt the single most peculiar, most profound and possibly the most pressing Late Late Show we’ve ever broadcast,” began Ryan Tubridy in the silent studio.

“No audience, no house band, no close contact. This is what social distancing looks like, and yes, it’s a strange, eerie feeling, I won’t lie to you. But it is absolutely necessary.”

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What followed was a public service broadcast on what everybody can do to slow the spread of coronavirus. The unfamiliar gravity of the present was only underlined by the eventual segue back to a light chat with pop star Niall Horan filmed in an era of hugs and whooping. “I love touring. I love getting up every night in front of 15,000 people. There’s no feeling like it,” said this past-Horan.

“We recorded that in January when you were allowed shake hands with people,” explained the lonely Tubridy, ominously crossing his fingers as he recited Horan’s October tour dates.



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