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Why Strictly will always dance round its reality rivals

PUBLISHED: 07:43 28 December 2017

We need more of the television magic that the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing provides. Picture Guy Levy/BBC/PA Wire.

We need more of the television magic that the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing provides. Picture Guy Levy/BBC/PA Wire.

Reflecting on Christmas television viewing, David Clayton realises that most of those old-style ‘get-everyone-together’ shows have gone. If only they had some of that Strictly magic...

As I scan the TV schedules in this twilight zone between Christmas and New Year, I’m having a bit of a “Strictly” moment. It’s not that Holby City actor Joe McFadden won when I rather expected and hoped Debbie McGee would. No, it’s deeper than that.

A Saturday night when there’s a tangible moment the nation pretty much comes together in front of their TV screens has ended. Well, for the time being at least and I rather wish it hadn’t. Mind you, I’m arguing against my better judgement because every inch of my broadcasting nous concedes that less is more. Strictly Come Dancing must go away to whet our collective appetite that it’ll come back, albeit nine months hence.

I’ve just had a festive catch up with a mate in Perth and he told me Australian TV did two series a year of their Strictly equivalent, but he hadn’t seen it on for a couple of years. That might tell you something.

I wasn’t always a Strictly fan. I’d harrumph while the family watched it and I’d wander off into another room to occupy my time more usefully rather than giving it up for an hour and a half of reality TV. Then Russell Grant was chosen as a contestant and having worked with him a few times over the years, I wanted to see how he got on. I was very quickly hooked and have been ever since.

I’m trying to rationalise why a media-savvy individual like me is regularly leaping out of a comfy chair, wracked with emotion and punching the air of a Saturday evening at what’s coming out of a flat TV screen from the BBC. Goodness, we’ve lived with reality TV long enough to be immune to its heavily-edited and dare I say, contrived storylines, but somehow Strictly transcends all of that and then some.

Firstly, its mostly live, as it happens, and the celebrities’ journeys seem to me to be honest and true and I care what happens to them. I love the camaraderie and I share it from my cushions at home with a glass of dry white, bolstered by the fact millions of other viewers are doing what I’m doing. It’s a rare collective TV moment in a multi-channel world.

Now here’s the thing, I’ve absolutely tried to replicate the feeling with I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here and I simply can’t. For me - and I absolutely concede it might just be me - managing to sink your teeth into a kangaroo’s testicles just doesn’t cut it against mastering the Argentine tango. Without too much philosophical analysis, the dancing puts Homo sapiens on a much higher plane.

I know the celebrity participants take a large fee for their involvement in both shows but to return with the accolade they’ve survived a tank of insects who were generally minding their own business until they got swatted away or squashed, or conversely, to have mastered a stunningly beautiful and entertaining paso doble is a “no contest” as far as I’m concerned.

On top of all that I’m in awe of the unsung hero of Strictly, the Steadicam man. While the dancers are dancing he’s running around them with a strapped-on TV camera. He must a) never collide with them, b) stay out of shot and c) get the right picture in focus. How the dickens? In a sense he must be counter-choreographed for it to work and it does – live!

I’ve only been once to the Strictly studios at Elstree and I was as much applauding him as the dancers. Not only does he tip-toe beautifully around the floor but in between his live, interactive shots he must find a range of discreet, out-of-shot squatting positions.

If only they did the same on I’m a Celebrity!

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