While 2020 has undoubtedly been a year of doom and gloom, the autumn is set to get an injection of sparkle with the return of Strictly Come Dancing.
The future of the BBC ballroom competition in the Covid era looked uncertain for a while, but in June, bosses finally confirmed it would be going ahead in order to bring us all some much-needed light relief.
However, there will be a number of notable changes when the show returns, as it navigates the creative challenges the pandemic has presented.
With that in mind, here’s everything we know so far about this year’s series...
It’s getting a shorter run
The show is going ahead with a shorter run, compared to the usual 13 weeks.
A BBC spokesperson has said: “To ensure we deliver the high standards audiences know and love, and in light of the ongoing considerations around Covid-19, this year’s series of Strictly will have a slightly shorter run than usual.”
Usually, the show airs a launch show in early September, where the celebrities are paired up with their professional partners, before they then have two weeks to train together ahead of the competition starting in full.
While no dates have been confirmed, it is looking like the show will not begin until 24 October, running for nine weeks until 19 December.
The pros will be quarantining together so they can record group routines
Back in June, the BBC revealed it was “considering isolating the dancers and key production members” together in a hotel for two weeks so they could then record a batch of group dances. This would be done in a small studio with skeleton crew to then be aired across the series.
After the group routines are in the can, The Sun has reported that the pros will then be asked to self-isolate at home before they meet their celebrity partners and form support bubbles.
“We will all be quarantining because I think for most productions and most shows health safety is the most important thing. So we will be taking care of ourselves and all the pros will be quarantining to make sure we’re all fit and healthy to do the show.”
There’s still a big question mark over the studio audience
One of the biggest changes to the series could see the live audience locked out of the ballroom for the first time in Strictly history, due to social distancing rules.
The BBC’s entertainment boss Kate Phillips said that “inevitably things are going to change” on the show, noting how RuPaul’s Drag Race still works well without a live audience.
Speaking at the virtual Edinburgh TV Festival earlier this year, she said: [Drag Race] is a big shiny floor talent competition with all sorts of catwalks, singing, dancing, impressions – it never has an audience.
“The audience is the four judges and I don’t think it suffers from that at all. I think it is a brilliant show.”
However, tabloid reports have since claimed that a smaller audience made up of different households and support bubbles could happen, with the groups sat at a social distance from one another.
Internationally, Australia aired three episodes of its most recent series of Dancing With The Stars without one (although it did end its run a week earlier than originally planned), while Germany’s Let’s Dance – where Motsi Mabuse also serves as a judge – also went ahead with no audience.
One judge might not be returning
Long-standing judge Bruno Tonioli has thrown his involvement in the new series into doubt because of his commitment to the US version, which he judges at the same time each year.
Usually, Bruno jets back and forth from London to LA each week, but it is unlikely he will be able to do so this year due to coronavirus travel restrictions in the US.
Speaking to The Sun in June, Bruno said his role was unclear, revealing: “Under normal circumstances I take a deep breath and do the travel. I love the show and love to do it and normally I’m destroyed by Christmas, but this year is different for everyone. Under the current restrictions they just won’t allow it. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Cheryl Tweedy’s name was linked to his judges’ seat, but various reports have since claimed she will not replace Bruno.
The Christmas special is reportedly off
With the huge challenges facing the production of the normal Strictly series, the Daily Star suggested that the usual Christmas special – which sees contestants from previous years return to compete – is just too much extra work for just one episode.
The BBC has yet to confirm this, but if it is the case, it will be the first time in the show’s 16-year history that a festive special has not aired on Christmas Day.
There could be a number of other changes too
Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s director of content, did confirm to The Times (£) earlier this year that bosses were considering various other safeguarding measures, including testing participants’ temperatures and installing glass divides inside the studio “so that people feel even more protected”.
We’re saying goodbye to some pros
Kevin announced his exit back in March after seven years on the show, revealing he was set to star in a production of Strictly Ballroom, which has since been postponed due to the pandemic.
AJ was originally announced as one of the pros returning for 2020, but he later said he would not be taking part, revealing he was pursuing a career in presenting with brother Curtis Pritchard.
Oti Mabuse, Luba Mushtuk, Dianne Buswell, Nadiya Bychkova, Johannes Radebe, Janette Manrara, Ajaz Skorajanec, Katya Jones, Giovanni Pernice, Gorka Marquez, Neil Jones, Karen Hauer, Anton Du Beke, Amy Dowden and Graziano Di Prima are all confirmed to return.
It has been reported Kevin and AJ will not be replaced, while it remains unclear whether Gorka and Graziano will receive celebrity partners this year, after sitting out the competition in 2019.
But our hosts should be staying the same
And there’s plenty of big names who have been linked to the series
As ever, the BBC is keeping the names of this year’s famous contestants under wraps until closer to the launch date.
However, there’s still plenty of big names who have been linked to the show in the press.
It has also been suggested Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing will also be invited back to participate, after he was forced to withdraw from last year’s competition having injured himself during the filming of the launch show.
Reports have also suggested 2020 will finally be the year the show includes its first same-sex pairing, after Dancing On Ice made TV history with Ian ‘H’ Watkins and Matt Evers’ partnership earlier this year.
Check out a more in depth look at the line-up rumours here.