Food Network is cutting down the number of episodes for the upcoming fourth season of its holiday series “Christmas Cookie Challenge,” because of a crew member tested positive for COVID-19 this week, Variety has learned. The season will be six episodes long instead of its usual eight.
Sonic Dog, the producers of the show, offered Variety a statement (posted in full below), saying, “At episode 6, unfortunately, an employee tested positive; after contact tracing, the producers decided to wrap production. The series was not ‘shut down’ by any outside party; rather, Sonic Dog elected to wrap three days early to allow staff, crew and cast to return home as opposed to extending the schedule.”
“Christmas Cookie Challenge,” co-hosted by Eddie Jackson and Ree Drummond, was shot at Quixote Studios outside of New Orleans. Before production began on Aug. 5, Sonic Dog “established COVID safety protocols in partnership with an on set medical and testing partner,” according to the statement. The cast and a crew of 98 were all tested for coronavirus before the start of the shoot; two local crew members tested positive, and were replaced.
With regular testing in place — people were tested either one, three or six times per week, depending on their jobs — after a round of tests on Aug. 11, one crew member who’d come into contact with many other members of the production tested positive. Six of the show’s eight episodes had been shot, so instead of pausing production on the show and starting it up again, Food Network agreed to do a shortened season. Crew members who were exposed on set were told they can be tested again next week.
This summer, Food Network — which adeptly pivoted to self-shot programming during the coronavirus shutdowns, and has seen a ratings spike in recent months — has selectively restarted on-location and studio production on some of its shows. Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and Robert Irvine’s “Restaurant: Impossible” both shot new seasons on location with reduced crews. And other holiday programming —“Halloween Baking Championship,” “Holiday Baking Championship,” “Kids Baking Championship” and “Spring Baking Championship” — began filming last month at a resort in California, with the casts and crews quarantining at a resort. Those shows have been filming outside, with no cases of coronavirus.
Read the full statement from Sonic Dog below:
Sonic Dog successfully completed 6 episodes of Christmas Cookie Challenge Season 4 for Food Network. In advance of the New Orleans shoot, producers established COVID safety protocols in partnership with an on set medical and testing partner. The production bubble followed that plan, and employees were tested 1, 3, or 6 times per week based on work zones. At episode 6, unfortunately, an employee tested positive; after contact tracing, the producers decided to wrap production. The series was not “shut down” by any outside party; rather, Sonic Dog elected to wrap three days early to allow staff, crew and cast to return home as opposed to extending the schedule. Adding additional time in the schedule would have been needed to properly allow any new team members to work on set. Filming during COVID-19 places many new responsibilities on production companies, ones that can impact timeline, logistics, budget and employees. Our experience shows how adherence to a sound safety plan can be effective in helping mitigate the spread of Coronavirus.