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Strictly Come Dancing: Covid-secure launch show seen by 8.6m viewers

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image captionClaudia Winkleman and Tess Daly returned as hosts of Strictly this year, but stayed 2m apart

The launch episode of this year's Strictly Come Dancing was watched by an average of 8.6 million viewers, according to overnight ratings.

That's an increase on last year's opening show audience, which attracted 7.8 million.

Saturday night's episode achieved a 42.2% audience share and had a peak of nine million viewers, a spokesman for the programme said.

There were several big changes to the format due to coronavirus restrictions.

Each couple has formed a bubble to limit contact with other people, and in the studio celebrities and their partners performed in front of a socially distanced audience.

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image captionStrictly judges Craig Revel Horwood, Shirley Ballas and Motsi Mabuse

The judges sat at their own mini-podiums although Bruno Tonioli was missing as he is also a judge on US show Dancing with the Stars.

He usually flies back and forth to appear on both shows but that isn't possible this year due to self-isolation rules when travelling between the US and the UK.

Bruno will, however, appear remotely on the Sunday results show and will appear in the studio later in the series once Dancing in the Stars has wrapped up.

There will be no Halloween or Blackpool specials either.

But what did the critics make of the new-look format? Has the magic gone or is this just the glut of glitter we need to see us through a tough winter?

The Telegraph's Ed Power was pleased to have the show back, giving it four stars out of five and declaring that, "Strictly, for all its concessions to Covid, felt reassuringly unchanged".

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He added: "With the New Normal becoming increasingly abnormal, this was comfort TV of the first rank."

"While Coronavirus has obviously brought complications to Strictly 2020 it hasn't, on the evidence of a reliably glittery launch episode, sapped the heel-clicking juggernaut of any of its strut."

Jan Moir, writing in the Daily Mail, was also pleased to have Strictly back.

"Strictly Come Dancing returned on Saturday night, providing a joyous burst of fun for viewers starved of sparkle and gagging for glitter," she wrote.

But she wasn't impressed with the show's regular references to how they've adapted to the Covid-19 guidelines.

image captionSaturday's episode saw Nicola Adams paired with Katya Jones

"Claudia and Tess spend far too much time patiently explaining the show's Covid rules - we get it! - although the admirable ingenuity, planning skills and can-do determination to make the show happen are nothing short of miraculous."

Moir was confident the show could still thrive without Bruno's enthusiastic presence.

'What's the fuss?'

"Bruno Tonioli is absent this year, but I fear he won't be missed much in the shortened format; no Blackpool, no Clauditorium, fewer episodes," she wrote.

Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams made history by becoming the first celebrity to dance in a same sex pair, partnering up with Katya Jones.

Moir wrote: "Strictly's first same-sex partnership has garnered much attention, but what is the fuss about?"

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image captionCaroline Quentin with Johannes Radebe

The Independent's Emma Bullimore gave the show a maximum five stars, noting: "Another fab-u-lous surprise awaits this year, as the pairings take place out and about across the country, captured in pre-recorded films.

"It's much more natural, less prolonged, and quite frankly a relief for everyone involved."

She added: "It's not a perfect show. Anton du Beke insists on singing (to the delight of nobody). And every member of the (much smaller) audience is wearing a mandatory plain black face mask, which feels stingy - could the budget not have stretched to a few sequins for the fans?

"But coming in from a grey day to glitterballs, glamour and smiles is a long-awaited injection of pure joy."


The Guardian's Heidi Stephens wrote a live blog on Saturday night, declaring it was "so good to be back".

She found the studio a little quiet though.

"Ah, we're in the studio and it's gone disco. It seems strange without an audience, but on the upside, no out-of-time clapping.

"Usually I'd bitch about how this show takes 90 minutes to do a pairing job that should take about ten, but I'm so Strictly-starved I'm prepared to go with it. Embrace the endless filler, everyone."

Viewers, including artist Grayson Perry, were also pleased to have Strictly to look forward to.

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But Pointless presenter Richard Osman was also a little frustrated by the frequent Covid-19 references.

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As were some viewers.

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Former Strictly professional Kristina Rihanoff enjoyed the new-look reveals.

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ITV Love Your Garden presenter Katie Rushworth summed the mood up.

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The first live show airs this Saturday, 24 October.

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