How Strictly Come Dancing became the most trusted talent show on TV

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Despite incessant reminders of the uncertainty of the world, there are three constants that can be relied on in early fall: the days will shorten, the leaves will turn brown, and a new round of Come dance strictly will ventilate.

Since 2004, every September or October has seen the start of a new dance competition program, bringing a new batch of celebrities to our screens. Each week, millions of households will watch couples – a professional dancer, a famous non-dancer – attempt routines across a wide range of genres, until the winning couple receives the sparkle ball trophy. On Saturday (September 18), BBC One’s flagship show will return for its 19th season, starting with the highly anticipated launch party where celebrities are paired with their professional dancers.

Did the producers who relaunched the format of its 20th century civilian version Come dance do you have any idea what entertainment monster they were throwing? Seventeen years after its first episode, the formula was recreated in 50 countries and remains one of the few guarantees to attract a strong and enthusiastic audience week after week, although live television has lost its long-standing battle against streaming and on-demand programming. Public enthusiasm for Strictly shows no signs of sagging.

But why? How did he manage to stay alive when similar TV shows went down the drain?

Take its old broadcast rival, the X factor, which was also launched in 2004. ITV’s historic singing competition was broadcast in the same timeslot as Strictly on a Saturday night, lasted a similar number of weeks and competed strongly for public attention. However, from the beginning of the 2010s, when the X factorthe grip on the nation has loosened, Strictlystayed strong. After its 15th series aired in 2018 – attracting an average of 6.19 million viewers per episode – X factor boss Simon Cowell has announced that the program will take a hiatus. In July 2021, the producers confirmed that the show would not come back at all.

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Meanwhile, the average audience figures for a Come dance strictly series have not fallen below ten million since 2010. According to fans, one of the reasons for the continued success of Strictly compared to other talent endeavors is his ability to balance routine and familiarity with something new.

Along with Bruce Forsyth’s presence as host (he retired from the program in 2014 and died in 2017) and ballroom design elements, archive episodes of the first series have a strong similarity with its current offer. On the surface: sequins, bright colors, big smiles and meticulous respect for the rules of each dance. Moreover, the simple principle has remained the same: non-experts learn a skill and improve steadily.

His rigidity provides a framework for fans to come back to: compare the execution of a style with previous attempts, laugh laughs with jokes, and spy on personal chemistry that might intimidate the Strictly curse – an illicit romance between professional dancers and celebrities.

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The jury has remained stable for years. In 2021, Craig Revel Horwood is the only remaining judge from the first season, but original judges Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli remained until 2016 and 2019 respectively. (Arlene Phillips left after the 2008 race.) The judges who entered the show were a combination of former contestants (Alesha Dixon), professional dancers from the cast (Anton Du Beke, who joins the full-time panel. this year) and established names in the field (Darcey Bussell, Shirley Ballas and Motsi Mabuse). And with clear technical definitions of success, viewers can become judges from the comfort of their couch.

The areas in which the program has innovated have only strengthened its current position. From adding dance styles to the roster – street, contemporary and jazz became style options in Series 16 – to integrating chart hits via the in-house group, he insists that formal dance has a place in contemporary times.

In 2020, the first homosexual Strictly the couple appeared, as Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams danced with professional Katya Jones. This year, chef and TV presenter John Whaite will be the first male celebrity to partner with a professional male dancer, showing that the show’s decision to include same-sex couples was more than a one-off; it was the signal of a commitment to include it as standard for the series to come.

According to a YouGov survey, 29 percent of all viewers strongly support the inclusion of a same-sex partnership on the show, with the highest proportion of those voters aged 18 to 49. Although 26% of those over 65 ‘strongly oppose’ this inclusion, those grunts are unlikely to shake the audience: The first live show of 2020, which featured Adams and Jones, garnered 10.1 million viewers – 1.6 million more than the previous year.

Part of this increase in viewership could be attributed to people being encouraged (and then forced) to spend more time indoors than usual. Yet it could also be a sign that the program is attracting new viewers, eager to witness the writing of history.

Vicky Leyland, the founder of a 50,000 people Strictly discussion forum, is a dedicated television viewer who has watched from the very beginning and fully embraces his same-sex matings. “I think it’s very important,” she explains. “The show must be in tune with the times. He makes sure that the show is accessible to everyone, and that they feel included. This only adds to what makes it a sight for everyone.

A key pillar in StrictlyIt’s continued success is how cruelty has never been essential to its surveillance. The last few years have shown a marked difference in the way viewers react to the treatment of reality TV contestants. The open denigration of hopeful people on screen – like Simon Cowell’s call a group of X factor hopes “The before, during and after of Weight Watchers” – is no longer culturally accepted. Softer programs hold up better in the moral landscape of 2021.

While Revel Horwood’s wicked pantomime reviews are a staple, the program is premised on the idea of ​​people who aren’t typically involved in the professional dance world to be “trying their hand”. A low score can hurt a competing celebrity’s ego, but it’s not the same as Cowell shattering a teenager’s fame dreams as hopeless, or Louis Walsh calling a listener’s popstar hopes. of “impossible missionOn the grounds that she was “very overweight”.

Sometimes the competition even feels secondary to the personal development with which the candidates leave. Of course, every celebrity will learn a new skill, and appearing in the program is a guaranteed profile boost that can lead to lucrative opportunities. Corn StrictlyThe intention is more to have fun and achieve something outside of his comfort zone – relevant goals for anyone watching at home.

In many ways, the program’s success is contradictory – vintage, but avant-garde; familiar, but different with each distribution; strict, while not taking yourself completely seriously. But its main goal is simple: to put on a great show. As long as producers keep this essential factor in mind, viewers will “keep dancing” for years to come.

[See also: BBC drama Vigil is brutal, bonkers and chilling]



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