Dust off your dancing shoes because Strictly will return to our screens in October, bringing its much-needed sparkle to round off the year.
Executive producer Sarah James has laid out what's in store for the 18th series and how the programme will work given the current Covid restrictions on social distancing. Planning such a huge entertainment show within these restraints has been no mean feat. The crew has been reduced and are required to social distance on site. Temperatures are checked and staff must sign self-declaration forms regarding symptoms. Face coverings, of course, are mandatory.
So how will Strictly go ahead this year and how different will it look? Here's everything you need to know as the show returns for its 18th series.
When does Strictly start?
Strictly usually runs for 13 weeks but this time there will be less episodes and a later start date in order to allow the cast and crew to pre-record some sections. The professional dancers have already filmed 14 group numbers that will be edited into the live Saturday-night shows.
This year there will be a launch show on October 17 followed by a nine-week run starting on October 24 culminating in the final on December 19.
There will be no elimination in the first week as per usual, so the first Sunday results show will be on week two.
Which celebrities are taking part in the series?
There are less celebrities this year due to the shorter run time, but the confirmed contestants are:
- Jamie Laing
- Jacqui Smith
- Maisie Smith
- JJ Chalmers
- Bill Bailey
- Nicola Adams
- Clara Amfo
- Ranvir Singh
- Max George
- Jason Bell
- Caroline Quentin
Who are the professional dancers?
- Aljaž Škorjanec
- Anton Du Beke
- Giovanni Pernice
- Gorka Marquez
- Johannes Radebe
- Amy Dowden
- Dianne Buswell
- Janette Manrara
- Karen Hauer
- Katya Jones
- Luba Mushtuk
- Oti Mabuse
Nancy Xu, Nadiya Bychkova, Graziano Di Prima and Neil Jones will not have celebrity partners this year. They will form their own bubble in order to be able to dance in group routines.
How will the pro-celebrity couples be able to dance together?
This is the biggie. The TV industry now uses close contact cohorts, which permits people who need to break social distancing rules in order to do their job to continue working with eachother (think along the lines of the Ant & Dec). CCCs have to be exclusive (i.e one other person) and couples must be regularly tested.
The BBC has also asked the couples to form bubbles, which means one half of the party must live alone for the duration of their time on the show. A hefty undertaking for those who progress far in the competition.
And if anyone tests positive for Covid-19 then they will be out of the competition immediately.
The launch show
The launch usually takes place two weeks before the series begins, in which the celebrities begin training with their pro partners and attend rehearsals. Not so this year. The couples will go straight into competition the following week.
There will be a group dance with the celebrities to give the viewers a taster of whether they can move or not. Each celebrity will only dance with their pro-partners for that number as opposed to mixing with the group.
The celebs will be paired up with their dancers via VT rather than in the studio. James promises some "incredible" locations for this. One assumes the BBC budget doesn't stretch to the moon.
We need to talk about Bruno
Strictly bosses have confirmed that judge Bruno Tonioli won't be on the judging panel for the live shows when the series returns. He is currently in Los Angeles where he's on the panel for the US version of the show, Dancing with the Stars, and can't travel back and forth to the UK because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
Tonioli said: "I absolutely adore being part of Strictly and can't wait to see what incredible dancing this year has in store. Lockdown has resulted in me being in LA for the foreseeable, but I'm excited to be involved as much as I possibly can. There was no cha-cha-chance I'd miss out."
Tonioli will watch the show via a live link in LA and feature on the Sunday-night results show. He won't be scoring the couples but will offer his verdict on them and be given the opportunity to call out his fellow judges should he disagree.
This means that there will only be three judges this year - Craig Revel Horwood, Shirley Ballas and Motsi Mabuse - and so scores will be out of 30 not 40. The trio will now be sat in separate pods in order to socially distance.
The studio set
The amount of crew allowed in the Elstree studio is reduced so there are new camera plans in place for the live shows, with the use of tracking cameras and extra lighting. There's also a big change in that this will be the first time the show will use "augmented reality". We've seen examples of this before when routines have included floor projections to give the effect of a 3D scene.
In the live shows there's usually big set pieces - think floral backdrops, giant beds, cafe scenes and confetti galore - which are put in place and changed over with fervent skill and speed while the cameras are concentrated elsewhere. With this unachievable due to the new spacing guidelines, augmented reality will bring in these sets in a different way. So perhaps we'll be transported to a sun-drenched Caribbean beach or a lush green jungle in the coming weeks, which will be welcomed by one and all, we're sure.
After each couple has finished their routine they skip up the steps to Claudia's Den. There they are greeted by the presenter and the rest of the gang and proceed to joke and jeer and fiercely encourage and support their fellow contestants as the judges deliver their scores. Due to social distancing, Winkleman is only able to chat to one couple at a time. So the other couples will be positioned to watch on cabaret tables within the audience positioned across from the judges's desks.
Dave Arch and the band
Musical director Dave Arch and his band and singers are a vital part of the show, providing live music in the studio for the couples to dance to. Unfortunately, the whole band are not able to fit in the pit under the stairs so parts of the musical numbers will be pre-recorded. Arch, however, will be present in the studio with the singers and a few other key members of the band so it is doubtful that the show will sound any different.
Guest music acts are go
There will be guest music acts each week on the results show. For the launch show, DJ Joel Corry and singer-songwriter MNEK, who had a UK number one hit this summer with their track Head & Heart, will perform. As has been the case in previous years, the pros will dance a routine alongside the music acts.
Will there be a studio audience?
Under Covid-19 guidelines there will be some changes to the way Strictly will be able to conduct a live audience this year. James explains that plans have been put in place for no audience, a socially distanced audience and a full audience. The random draw for audience tickets has already closed. But, should it be a consideration and for those who are successful, tickets will be allocated to groups of four, allowing family bubbles and household groups to attend at the studio in Elstree.
Groups will be sat at cabaret tables and in balcony seating and are required to wear face coverings.
Strictly isn't Strictly without an overload of hair, make-up and costumes. And the theme weeks prove popular year after year often turning the spotlight onto previously overlooked contestants.
Movie Week and Musicals Week will go ahead as planned, but hold on to your pumpkins because Hallowe'en is cancelled. The festivities land on the first elimination weekend so producers felt that it was too soon to go big with such a huge theme week. There will, however, be a special Hallowe'en group number.
Similarly there will be no annual trip to the famous Blackpool Ballroom, one of the highlights of the series. Again, there will still be a celebration of the iconic venue from Elstree studios.
All in all, the team are working flat out to bring the sparkle back to our screens. Indeed, the show must go on!