THE BBC can cope without soaps, dramas and documentaries while coronavirus rages but postponing Strictly Come Dancing? No cha cha chance.
The TV juggernaut is the jewel in its crown, its biggest show and breeding ground for future stars.
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Strictly producers are devising 100 different formats to cater for ever-changing coronavirus rulesCredit: PA:Press Association
So how are Strictly chiefs going to get the series ready to air this autumn?
The Sun revealed in June that the contest will start later, now beginning in October, run for fewer weeks and with reduced competitor numbers.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to format tweaks.
Producers are devising 100 different formats to cater for the ever-changing Covid-inspired rules and stipulations.
A BBC source said: “Preparing for this year’s show is a huge headache. The goalposts keep moving, so the big decisions are being left to the last minute so we’re as up to date as possible.
“But any concrete things we can decide on now, we are doing. Making one hit series is hard enough. As things stand, we are having to plan for hundreds.
“The slightest change to the rules could have a massive impact on how the show is filmed.
“But everyone is determined to get this thing on screen and in a way that is as close to the normal version as possible.”
The show’s ‘chemistry circle’, where producers decide who will look good together, has been scrapped
So how exactly will the 2020 series look?
For starters, it will feel pretty empty. For the first time in the show’s 16-year history celebrities and their professional partners will be dancing in a near-empty studio in Elstree, Herts.
There will also be a skeleton backstage crew working on the show, with around a quarter of the usual numbers because it is impossible to socially distance with full numbers.
A show source said: “The current plan is no audience, which will inevitably affect the show.
The judges’ entourages are also being banned this year
“They are the energy in the room, and dancing in an empty room is like dancing in a training room. It’s a different intensity and pressure.
“But Elstree is a very cosy set-up, where it will be impossible to safely socially distance audience members. So for now, with the current rules, it’s a ‘no’ to anyone watching.
“Everything in terms of people is being scaled back dramatically. There will be less security because there’s no audience to control.
“Anyone deemed non-essential is a goner.
A set of challenges mean the show is yet to have a full line-up
“There’s around 25 per cent of the usual crew working on the show.”
This means everything is taking much, much longer.
The source added: “You can’t just have 50 blokes lugging around lights and moving stuff around.
“It’s all much more careful now. Everything is taking ten times what it normally does.”
Just 25 per cent of the usual crew will be working on the showCredit: BBC
The judges — Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse and Bruno Tonioli, if he returns from America in time to film — will also suffer from the changes, as showbiz entourages are also being banned this year.
Another source revealed: “Those days are long gone, at least while this pan-demic continues.
“There will be no entourages for the judges, no agents hanging around, no friends or family members, no hair and make-up people waiting on them hand and foot.
“It will be basic crew and talent on set, and no hangers-on.
Strictly’s Australian counterpart filmed dancers performing on the roof of the hotel where they were spending quarantine
“It’ll be a very different show this year for everyone, from the top to the bottom.”
As The Sun reported last week, producers have also discussed the possibility of having no big-name music acts, which have been so popular in recent years with the likes of Taylor Swift and Lewis Capaldi.
And the elaborate group dances involving all of the show’s professionals have been ditched.
In a change from the norm, all of this year’s numbers will be pre-recorded a month before the professionals even know who they are paired with.
Strictly is currently planning to have no audienceCredit: BBC
Strictly does have two things on its side — time, and plenty of opportunity to test what works and what doesn’t through its various international versions of the show.
Talking exclusively to The Sun, Strictly’s long-serving professional dancer Janette Manrara, 36, said: “They have been looking at a lot of Dancing With The Stars around the world to see how they have been doing it and how they got on.
“Motsi was telling me how the show functioned in Germany, with everyone wearing masks and gloves and there was no audience.
“There are a lot of dance styles that we can do without necessarily having to touch our partner.
Janette Manrara, who is married to Aljaz Skorjanec, hopes they will not have to isolate separatelyCredit: PA:Press Association/Press Association Images
“You can teach someone steps, you can teach someone side-by-side routines and not have to touch someone, so there is always that possibility.
“And masks — let’s do a beautiful rumba with a sparkly mask on. We could make it a fashion thing. We all just want the show to go on.
“We all need some wholesome, happy entertainment on a Saturday night again. Strictly will be a bit of normality considering all the madness we’ve had to deal with.”
The living arrangements are something of a headache too, particularly for Janette, who is married to Aljaz Skorjanec, 30, another of the show’s pros.
She said: “I’ve no idea how they are going to do it if we do have to isolate with our celebrity partners.
“I just hope Aljaz and I can stay together. We are a married couple so I would hope we can.
“But I just don’t know yet, the plans are changing daily. We’ve had big meetings and the guidance is changing daily.
“But everyone is doing everything possible to make sure the show does happen. I can’t imagine the stress the show’s producer has had. The team at Strictly are incredible.
Producers are preparing to be nimble and flexible with plansCredit: BBC
“We’ve been told we have to wait and see what the guidelines are nearer the time but because they change, it means Strictly is having to think of everything.
“We started rehearsing in July but again we’re having to wait to see what happens and how it’s going to work.
“They brought us all together and we danced together to protect us. But before that happened we were told it could change.
“I think the show is definitely going forward as they’ve tried so hard to make it work. Fingers crossed we don’t go backwards in October.”
The BBC cannot afford to spend as much as its ITV counterpartsCredit: PA:Press Association
Producers are preparing to be nimble and flexible with plans, as their Australian counterparts did when a family member of one of the show’s dancers tested positive for Covid-19 during the series Down Under.
They filmed them dancing on the roof of the hotel where they were spending quarantine, rather than making them head into the studio.
The most important part of Strictly, or indeed any reality show, is the line-up, and that has come with its challenges too.
Getting celebrities on board has been hard for a number of reasons, on both sides of the negotiations.
One issue for the BBC is money. It cannot afford to spend as much as its ITV counterparts, and bosses are wary that if the show does not happen, they will still have to pay part of the fee.
As for the celebrities, many are waiting to see what their work diary will look like towards the end of the year, or want more dosh.
A showbiz source said: “It’s a delicate dance between Strictly and the celebs.
“Many are weighing up their options, so Strictly still doesn’t have a full line-up.”
One sure sign that the show will be going ahead this year is that filming has already begun
One key part of booking the line-up is the show’s “chemistry circle”, nicknamed the Speed Dating Circle because of the show’s many hook-ups.
Before the celebrities and professionals are paired for the start of each series, they perform a sexy salsa in a circle, constantly swapping partners as producers decide who will look good together.
But because of lockdown, this part of the process has had to be scrapped, meaning the pairings will be decided on height alone.
Despite everything, one sure sign that the show will be going ahead this year is that filming has already begun.
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This week two of the professionals, Aljaz and Russian bombshell Luba Mushtuk, 30, shot pieces to camera ahead of the series starting on October 24.
Luba, who was paired with Olympic rower James Cracknell in last year’s show, filmed a sequence on a beach, while Aljaz did a piece to camera on a bridge in London.
So it seems the Glitterball Trophy will not be going into storage any time soon.
Strictly star Oti Mabuse’s sister Motsi surprises her with emotional Zoom call for 30th birthday
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