Forget what you may have read about slightly lower ratings – this season of Strictly Come Dancing is shaping up to be an all-time great.
Rose and Giovanni, AJ and Kai, John and Johannes and Sara and Aljaz are just four of the many couples earning impressive scores while endearing themselves to the nation; and I for one am already sad about the inevitably tough eliminations that will have to happen between now and Christmas.
It’s a banner year, and proof that – if the casting is right – Strictly has a timeless format that can run and run and run. And for a while now, that format has largely remained unchanged.
But this year more than ever before, calls for one particular element to disappear (or at least be massively overhauled) are growing louder.
Ever since the Alesha Dixon-crowning fifth season in 2007, the eliminations have aired in pre-recorded shows on Sunday evenings – taped after the viewer vote closes on the Saturday night (with the brief exception of season seven in 2009, when they both aired on the same night).
Many people don’t like it. ‘Strictly Come Dancing fans demand change to Sunday show after result “leaks” early’, read a headline from The Independent earlier this month. Edinburgh Live ran a similar story with the title: ‘Strictly Come Dancing fans call on BBC to axe “pointless” part of show’.
The problem, it seems, is that many already know the result before the Sunday show hits the air – and others are perpetually miffed by the presentation of it as if it’s live.
For what it’s worth, that latter point has never bothered me. If you listen carefully, Tess and Claudia never explicitly say the Sunday show is live; they and the judges just change their outfits and carefully refer to the performances as ‘Saturday night’. Surely if they said ‘earlier tonight’, that would be even more jarring.
But the leaks seem to be a bigger problem.
The online emergence of spoilers may only hit the headlines every now and then, but as thousands of viewers will already know, they leak every single week – if you know where to look. It’s always been that way.
It used to be that you could check bookies’ odds late on Saturday to see which couple had suddenly disappeared from the market, or visit a reliable forum to get the breaking news.
Now, there are purpose-built Twitter accounts with huge followings that reveal – via reliable on-the-ground sources – who leaves the ballroom either late on the Saturday, or first thing Sunday.
As some (not all) of them actively encourage their followers to retweet and share the news, you can see how some viewers would be annoyed at having it land on their Twitter timeline without wanting it.
I, for my sins, can’t help myself: with excitement high after all the performances, I’m too invested in my favourites to wait. I want to know as soon as possible which couple sashays away (wait, wrong show) and who lands in the dance-off and survives.
I can’t even remember the last time I waited until the Sunday night to experience it as the production gods intended.
So what’s the answer? Should the Sunday show be scrapped, as several people on social media think it should be?
Maybe – but it’s hard to think of a sensible alternative.
One option is to air the results later on the Saturday: if it’s all being filmed then anyway, why not broadcast it live, perhaps sandwiched on the other side of Casualty? That’s certainly how it was done in the early years.
Maybe the show could adopt the same model as Dancing With The Stars in territories like the USA, where it’s all bunched together as one episode – with no dance-off. The voting would open for a very small amount of time, the judges would pick between the two couples at the bottom of the combined leaderboard, and boom, we’re done.
Of course the obvious problem there is that the performance shows already feel like they go on for thousands of years; and if the results aren’t going to air until gone 10pm, you can see why bosses would rather save them for the next night.
Plus, the folks who are getting their spoilers from Twitter are also probably the ones most likely to be going out later on a Saturday – so even if the elimination did air live, they might not be in to watch it.
How about keeping the results show on the Sunday, but doing it live? It would eliminate the possibility of leaks, and would make it so the voting could be open for longer than a blink of an eye, as it is now.
In its heyday, The X Factor’s Sunday shows were virtually unmissable; the live element bringing an extra layer of unpredictability and excitement.
The issue there, though, would be the logistical faff of getting every couple back into costume and make-up for a potential dance-off that most of them wouldn’t even be in. If the dance-off was scrapped, would there be enough substance to the show to even justify it?
The bottom dancers could do something else entirely in the dance-off (like the sing-off candidates on X Factor used to), but it seems unlikely that they’d have anywhere near enough time to choreograph and prepare it. Plus, at a time when every last penny of the license fee payers’ money is being scrutinised, would bosses want to splash out on a live Sunday show when a pre-record is presumably much cheaper?
It seems – quelle surprise – there are no easy answers. And despite recurring moans, the format seems unlikely to change: in the final consolidated figures, upwards of 8million people catch the Sunday shows, and they regularly rank as BBC One’s second most popular broadcast of any given week, behind only the Saturday night performances.
Although I know the results ahead of time, I still watch on a Sunday. Even if I do think 45-50 minutes per episode is pushing it a bit.
If it’s not possible to air the whole shebang on a Saturday in a way that doesn’t feel barbarically long, perhaps the answer is just for bosses to figure out how to stop the leaks.
The Masked Singer does a good job of keeping its secrets contained, and its episodes are filmed months before they hit the air. Surely there’s a way for Strictly to keep a lid on its eliminations for 24 hours. Would booting out the studio audience help?
In the meantime, I’ll be having my sparkly cake and eating it: watching the Sunday shows… and also looking up the results in advance.
Credit: Original article published here.