Will Saturday Night Takeaway work without an audience?

Ant and Dec will be playing to an empty room on Saturday night

Ant and Dec Saturday Night Takeaway (ITV Pictures, JG)

Last week Ant and Dec announced that this year’s Saturday Night Takeaway finale would no longer be filmed at Disney World, Florida. But they still had the luxury of standing in front of a studio audience, and were continuing with their ‘place on the plane’ competition, albeit with the awkward caveat that they couldn’t tell winners when they would actually be able to take up their holiday.

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But this weekend it will be a very different programme. ITV has confirmed that there will be no studio audience on Saturday night, for the first time in the show’s history, and while the next episode will stay at 90 minutes all further programmes will go down to one hour.

So how will this affect the show? The good news is that some sketches – like Ant and Dec’s much hyped Undercover prank on Bradley Walsh and the next instalment of their Men in Brown skit – are already in the can and will be easy to play out. Ant vs Dec should still be possible, although it could be tricky to pull off without the audience getting involved, and you’d think there must be a way to stitch up Stephen Mulhern, even during difficult times.

But all of the features requiring studio audience participation will need to be scrapped, including Win the Ads, and it seems unlikely that anyone will want to answer the door to Fleur East or Andi Peters, even if they might win prizes. It remains to be seen if any of the guest announcers will want to come into the studio.

Of course a relentlessly feelgood show like Saturday Night Takeaway is exactly what lots of us are longing for right now, but how easy will it be to create that atmosphere without an audience cheering and clapping in all the right places? There’s a reason that shiny floor shows (as they’re known in the biz) hire a warm up man to gee up the crowd a good hour before shows go on air – if the audience sounds flat then so does the show. Even experienced pros like Ant and Dec will struggle to keep the energy up without getting any response back.

Saturday Night Takeaway, ITV Pictures, SL

Saying that, Ant and Dec aren’t autocuties – they have an incredible amount of input into scripts and sketches, in a show that is known for being creative and constantly refreshing its ideas. Likewise, their best performances arguably come out of I’m A Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here, where they are free to be themselves and only have a small crew to react to their jokes. Perhaps a return to this style of presenting – possibly in a smaller studio – could be a welcome change.

With the Prime Minister urging us to stop visiting theatres, ITV clearly had no choice but to avoid a studio audience, and Ant and Dec are to be applauded for not just locking the doors on their fancy houses and leaving us to it. In any interview they give about SNT it’s clear that this show, more than any other, is their baby. They care about it being a success, and about their viewers. So they will be pulling out all the stops.

And much like when Dec hosted Britain’s Got Talent without Ant, you get the sense that the nation will be right behind them, even if the series does lose a little of its gloss.

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Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway continues tonight at 7pm on ITV – check out what else is on with our TV Guide