Here's What Ant And Dec Had To Say About Their Time On SM:TV Live 25 Years After Its Launch

The presenting duo reflected on their "wild three years" on SM:TV Live back in February.
Ant and Dec in the SM:TV Live studio
Ant and Dec in the SM:TV Live studio
Ken McKay/Shutterstock

Tuesday marks a big anniversary in the history of kids’ TV.

SM:TV Live, the gloriously anarchic show that came to define weekend telly for a generation of young people in the late 1990s and early 2000s, first hit our screens 25 years ago.

Presented by a dream team of Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly and Cat Deeley, the weekly live show mixed celebrity interviews with chaotic regular sketches like Wonky Donkey, Challenge Ant and the Friends parody Chums.

But while SM:TV garnered a loyal following during its five years on the air, and is now looked back on with fondness, Ant and Dec revealed during an interview with HuffPost UK originally published back in February that it didn’t exactly get off to the strongest of beginnings.

“It started terrifically badly,” Dec told us. “The viewing figures were awful. We started at the end of August in 1998, and we’d been commissioned for a whole year, but there were rumours by the end of September that we weren’t going to be on by Christmas.”

Dec continued: “Slowly but surely, it kind of started to turn around. We got the kids in, and the viewing figures started to go up, and we got a bit of confidence, and our relationship with Cat grew. And then it absolutely flew – beyond all of our wildest expectations.”

Ant and Dec with co-host Cat Deeley in 2000
Ant and Dec with co-host Cat Deeley in 2000
Ken McKay/Shutterstock

Ant also revealed it was a fellow Geordie who helped turn the show’s fortunes around, explaining: “The first kind of [big] guest we had on was Sting. I think he agreed to do it because we were Geordies. And as soon as we got him, other people started saying, ‘oh if Sting’s been in it, then I’ll do it’. And in the end, everybody who was anybody was on the show.”

“There were a few weeks where I think we had, in succession, Blur, U2, Paul McCartney,” Dec agreed.

“We were sat interviewing Paul McCartney – and that was a proper ‘pinch me’ moment. We’d come from hardly anybody watching it, and there we were with a Beatle. I couldn’t believe it.”

Not every celebrity made for such easy interviewing, though.

Asked for a celebrity who was more reluctant to join the fun, they both named Christina Aguilera, with Ant recalling: “She sat there in her shades, and wouldn’t take them off. It was a pre-recorded interview, because she didn’t want to do it live.

“Everything pointed towards it being a bad interview. And it turned out to be a bad interview.”

Christina Aguilera in the early 2000s
Christina Aguilera in the early 2000s
George De Sota via Getty Images

Dec continued: “I remember Jennifer Lopez coming down, and seeing that whole thing about having six dressing rooms and room temperature Evian – all the riders and stuff.

“She was really lovely, but yeah, it was a big old stink around the studio, ‘she needs this, she needs that’. We had very few bad celebs, but we had a lot of entertaining riders and stuff.”

And while Ant remembered his and Dec’s time on SM:TV as a “wild three years”, the pair apparently always behaved themselves away from the show. Well, almost always.

He insisted: “We had good training from Byker Grove, ‘you’ve got to learn those scripts, you’ve got to be on time, and you’ve got to do your job’. The only time that wasn’t the case was when it was the millennium.

“It was originally meant to be a pre-recorded show, but then ITV said, ‘you’re the first show of the new millennium, and we want you to be live’. And we were like, ’well shit’, we’re going out to celebrate the New Year in Newcastle, we’re not cancelling that!’. So what we did was, we celebrated up there, hard, and then got in the car and got driven down to London, straight to the studios.

“I didn’t even have a kip, I think I had shut-eye in the car and then went on air. But it was fine, everybody was in the same boat – the viewers, the crew, Cat, we were all feeling it.”

“We learned how to do live television purely because of doing Saturday mornings,” Ant added. “We got a chance to grow, and as a young professional in the industry, it’s the best training ground, and the best way to learn your craft.”

“And it’s sad that that training ground kind of isn’t there anymore,” Dec agreed.

Ant and Dec in the Saturday Night Takeaway studio earlier this year
Ant and Dec in the Saturday Night Takeaway studio earlier this year
Kieron McCarron/Shutterstock

After Ant and Dec left the show in 2001, SM:TV continued for another two years, with various presenters including Tess Daly, Brian Dowling and Steps singers H Watkins and Claire Richards joining the line-up.

It eventually ended in 2003, although Ant and Dec have since reunited with Cat on a number of occasions, first for an SM:TV anniversary special in 2020 and later for a Chums-inspired sketch on another of their hit projects, Saturday Night Takeaway.

Asked whether the much-loved show could ever return to our screens, Ant said he and Dec would “love to bring it back in some form”, but clarified: “Not necessarily with us hosting, but we’d love to do something with it, because I do feel there is space for it.”

Since their days on SM:TV Live, Ant and Dec are now best known for their work on shows like I’m A Celebrity, Britain’s Got Talent, Saturday Night Takeaway and, more recently, the gameshow Limitless Win.

It was announced earlier this year that they were bringing back another of their old projects, with a revival of Byker Grove currently in the works.

Read our full interview with Ant and Dec from February 2023 here.


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