Why it’s time to get strict with Strictly
- Credit: BBC/Guy Levy
Five tweaks to stop the risk of this beloved and successful Saturday-night show growing stale
I'm used to being a Contrary Mary in matters of popular culture but, even so, it's a bit daunting staring 13million fans in the eyes and asking 'Don't you think you deserve something a little bit better?'
But despite my being outnumbered (vastly) the moment has come to be bold, commit the ultimate heresy and suggest we get strict with Strictly.
The BBC's flagship light entertainment show has provided us with colourful moving wallpaper since 2004 – and, when you're pulling audience figures in millions, why change a winning formula?
Well, you tweak it because anything that doesn't move forward starts slipping backwards. And all those fans of Strictly Come Dancing surely want the Saturday-night sparkle to retain its lustre.
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The truth is that Strictly is becoming a pastiche of itself.
It's a harsh accusation to level as there is so much right and good about the show. It upholds the cherished Beeb tradition of top-notch production values and integrity. It's a competition, yet underpinned by warmth and mutual respect – the kind of decency the world needs as much of as it can get. And there's no hungry commercial imperative lurking beneath the surface, as in some other talent shows.
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All that must remain. Here's what they should tinker with.
Go compare: How can we really contrast the celebs' skills when they're all dancing different choreography to different film music, for example? Variety is usually something to be welcomed, but in Strictly couples should perform the same routine – so we can see who's got it and who hasn't. There would be no place to hide, and that should make for compelling TV.
Prune the posse: Those post-dance chats are too cosy and crowded. Ditch the gaggle of supporting dancers simpering at the camera and bring in a second interviewer to ruffle a few feathers by playing bad cop to Claudia Winkleman's good cop. Someone like Chris Packham would do nicely.
Grit, not glib: The filmed inserts of contestants learning routines in the dance studio have become too polished and superficial, and invariably end with a cliché. I want to know what it's really like waking up with rock-hard calf muscles the next morning and how you treat them; how celebs dovetail practice sessions with normal life; how they cope when the physical effort turns them into mental zombies; how it creates pressure because they're not around for their children because the timetable of life has changed…
Crank-up the cast: It can't be easy to secure a cracking list of celebs series after series, but the show's success rests on the quality and character of its contestants. We need more light and shade, because it's the differences between people that create that sense of drama.
Power-up the panel: On balance, the make-up of the judging panel has remained remarkably stable over 14 years… and the panel's 'performances' are, as a result, predictable and often pantomimey. Viewers do like to anticipate what they know is coming, but a shake-up is due. Let's rest one of them and bring in a new voice. (Who would you nominate?)
And: Let's have one of the judges visiting each practice session and offering advice to the couple. That surely would be enlightening to watch.
All this isn't a revolution but a gentle adjustment designed to stop Strictly growing stale and keep a spring in its step as it keeps on dancing. Makes sense, doesn't it?