EastEnders officially ran out of episodes on 16th June and it will then take a break until at least late Summer/early Autumn.
It is the first time since 1985 the BBC’s flagship soap has vanished from the schedules, thanks to the national lockdown that forced all UK soaps to cease production back in March.
While ITV counterparts Coronation Street and Emmerdale have managed to phase back to filming before their stock of completed episodes run dry, and will continue airing uninterrupted, EastEnders only started filming again on 29th June and rumours are swirling the BBC drama is set to make some drastic changes when it returns.
When will EastEnders be back?
What we know for certain, is that BBC bosses will be aiming for an August/September return and when it does get back, each episode will only be 20 minutes long.
Tabloid reports would have us believe bosses plan to scrap the majority of current storylines for a proposed ‘reboot’, effectively capping off the last 35 years as EastEnders: Season 1 before ‘Season 2’ kicks off later this year, starting a whole new batch of plots from scratch.
This is pure speculation, but it does raise the interesting question of how EastEnders will handle the unprecedented time gap – and how long that gap is likely to be.
Pre-pandemic, the soap (as with most continuing dramas) filmed around six to eight weeks ahead of transmission. When filming paused in mid-March there was enough new material in the can until early May, but BBC One quickly decided to reduce the number of weekly episodes from four to two to keep the show on air for longer, taking us up to mid-June.
When did EastEnders start filming again?
Filming recommenced on 29th June. Episodes still take six to eight weeks to turn around, so we’re looking at an on-screen return in the second half of August at the earliest – although a social media post from Dayle Hudson, who plays Peter Beale, of a script with a visible transmission date suggested 7th September as the likely return date.
However, with new social distancing and safety measures impacting on all TV production, the usually fast-paced process of making a soap could take a little longer, as there will be a whole host of government guidelines and restrictions to work within for the first time.
We know for certain EastEnders will return with four episodes a week, each timed at 20 minutes long. This will no doubt help the production make the new episodes a little faster. Corrie and Emmerdale have confirmed they are sticking to their reduced schedule pattern of three episodes a week for the time being while they adapt to the new normal.
While having one of their flagship shows off air for any amount of time is not ideal, BBC One could also be eyeing up a more bells-and-whistles relaunch in the autumn, lending weight to the rumour it may choose to wait until September.
Keeping EastEnders on hold to make a bigger, triumphant splash of a comeback in the autumn would give the channel a bigger boost and distract audiences from the paucity of new programming.
And while it’s unlikely every single plot will be thrown out, inevitably there will be a sense of starting over and certain stories having to be considerably tweaked, or shelved with some expository dialogue filling us in, to account for the fact it could be months before we’re back on Albert Square.
Excitingly, some stories would’ve already started while the audience was away and we’ll be playing catch up as Walford life is unlikely to stand still, even in lockdown. Could that rumoured new affair have kicked off over the summer? And just how steamy will it be from a two-metre distance?
There’s also an opportunity for writers and producers to be more inventive than ever, in-keeping with EastEnders’ increasing love of experimentation and format-busting. We’ve already had the Christmas Day flashback, Linda Carter’s point of view episode jumping forward in time and perception, and February’s flash forward multi-perspective week that replayed the same day from various viewpoints.
I’m imagining the relaunch starts with a montage of significant events showing what’s been happening during the lost weeks. Maybe it’ll be like that scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant walks through Portobello market in a musical interlude where the seasons change around him? We’ve counted up there’s roughly 15 cliffhangers that need resolving…
At the very least I’m hoping for Letitia Dean to record a breathy voiceover to recap where we left things on that wonderful day, hopefully not too far ahead, when the show is properly back in business: “Previously on EastEnders…”
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