Hollywood braces for shutdown, clearing release calendar

The entertainment industry, a business predicated on drawing crowds in theaters, cinemas and concert venues, braced Thursday for a potential shutdown from the coronavirus as upcoming movies were canceled, festivals scuttled and live audiences eliminated from television shows.

Posted: Mar 12, 2020 1:53 PM
Updated: Mar 13, 2020 3:02 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The entertainment industry, a business predicated on drawing crowds in theaters, cinemas and concert venues, braced Thursday for a potential shutdown from the coronavirus as upcoming movies were canceled, festivals scuttled and live audiences eliminated from television shows.

To accommodate calls for social distancing, Hollywood moved to pause the normal hum of TV productions and the bustle of red-carpet movie premieres. The upcoming releases of “A Quiet Place 2” and the latest “Fast & Furious” movie, “F9,” joined the many postponements.

The dawning awareness of the virus’ reach had already forced the cancellation or postponement of all major imminent events on the calendar, including the sprawling South by Southwest conference and festival in Austin, Texas; Hollywood’s annual movie expo CinemaCon, in Las Vegas; this month’s Kids Choice Awards in Los Angeles; the sunny California music festival Coachella, which was put off until October; and big television events like the NBA season, which was put on hiatus Wednesday after a player tested positive for the virus.

On Thursday, California and some states urged bans of not just the largest events but also gatherings of more than 250 to help stymie the virus’ spread. That brought a new focus on Broadway, multiplexes and smaller concert venues.

California Governor Gavin Newsom recommended the cancellation or postponement of gatherings of 250 or more people through at least the end of the month.

Hollywood still planned to usher in several new movie releases to theaters beginning Thursday evening. North American’s largest chains, AMC and Regal, did not immediately respond to emails Thursday. Cinemas have been closed in China, India, Italy, Poland, Greece and other countries.

John Krasinski, writer and director of “A Quiet Place 2,” announced Thursday that his film from Paramount Pictures would not open next week as planned but be postponed to as yet-announced date. Universal Pictures also announced that “F9” won’t open May 22 as planned but in April next year.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is that people have said our movie is one you have to see together,” Krasinksi said in a message on social media. “Well due to the ever-changing circumstances of what’s going on in the world around us, now is clearly not the right time to do that.”

Paramount also shuffled the release of “Lovebirds” and “Blue Story.” Few major releases remain in the coming weeks, with the notable exception of the Walt Disney Co.’s “Mulan.” It’s set for March 27 in the U.S. A spokesperson for Disney did not immediately comment Thursday.

Also Thursday, the TCM Classic Film festival scheduled next month in Los Angeles was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Canada’s top music awards show was also called off as a precaution due to the pandemic. The Juno Awards were scheduled for Sunday in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

A part-time usher and security guard who worked at two Broadway theaters in recent days tested positive for COVID-19 and is under quarantine. Broadway is particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus because its audience skews older, thousands of people are packed into small seats for every show and the industry is dependent on tourism. After extensive cleaning, Thursday nights show are to go on.

The announcement Wednesday evening, while President Donald Trump addressed the nation, that Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had tested positive for coronavirus sent shudders through the industry. Hanks was easily the most famous person yet to publicly announce that he had the virus. He was in Australia to shoot an Elvis Presley biopic that Warner Bros. said would halt production.

“Not much more to it than a one-day-a-time approach, no?” Hanks said of their condition.

On Thursday, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Late Show With James Corden” joined other late-night talk shows in announcing they will tape without audiences. That followed similar decisions by CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” NBC’s “Tonight Show” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and TBS’ “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

CBS also said that production on the next season of “Survivor” was being postponed. “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” have also halted tapings with audiences.

The closures, postpones and hiatuses are likely to be enormously costly. The shuttering of Chinese movie theaters — the world’s second-largest movie market has been closed for more than a month — has already led to the loss of more than $1 billion in ticket revenue. Last year, global box office sales reached a new high of $42.2 billion.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover within a few weeks.

As of Wednesday evening, 38 people had died in the U.S., while more than 1,300 people had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Tolls have been higher elsewhere. In Italy, where more than 12,000 people tested positive and 800 people have died, all stores except pharmacies and food markets were ordered closed.

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Associated Press Writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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