Why Dancing On Ice’s rivalry with Strictly is something to be celebrated

Both shows tell us a lot about the history of the TV landscape, says Johnathon Hughes

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Dancing On Ice reaches its grand final on Sunday 8th March, bringing to a close another series of celebrities strutting their stuff on the arm of glamorous professionals while trying not to fall over. Sound familiar?


It’s not exactly news to point out the similarities between Dancing On Ice and BBC One rival Strictly Come Dancing, we all know ITV’s shiny-rink show was created as a spoiler for the all-conquering annual ballroom blitz.

Both formats are practically identical, save for the presence of frozen water and skates on one, and both are expected to deliver on certain audience promises which DOI has demonstrably done this season: off-camera controversy (Caprice quits!), headline-grabbing (same-sex couples!), and unlikely whirlwind romance (Brianne Delcourt and Kevin Kilbane engaged!).

Yes it’s trashy, yes it’s cheesy, yes it’s a direct, if somewhat unsavoury, rip-off of Strictly – but that’s precisely the point.

DOI came high-kicking and screaming into the world back in 2006 as the naughty little sister of sensible Strictly, which had started two years earlier. Some 14 years later, it has grown into the rebellious, rowdy teenager it was born to be, while Strictly has become the older, high-achieving sibling that Dancing On Ice steals make-up from and picks fights with.

It’s the ITV Aldi alternative to BBC’s Tesco Finest, but that’s not as judgmental and churlish as it sounds. In fact, it’s something to be celebrated and proves some things in the TV landscape have not altered in decades.

Let me make it clear I’m a big fan of both shows, but what I find interesting in the multi-platform era is how they encapsulate the battle between the channels: their very existence is a 65-year rivalry writ large, reinforcing both BBC and ITV’s identities and core values at a time when traditional terrestrial networks are apparently being left behind.

Dancing On Ice 2019 - Photocall

Ever since the BBC cheekily chose to bump off Grace Archer to scupper ITV’s launch night back in 1955 the two great bastions of British broadcasting have been trying to outdo each other.

There’s something reassuring about that healthy competition still going on, and wryly amusing to think of two harmless entertainment shows as representing what each network stands for.

With competition to attract viewers more fierce than ever, it’s impressive how both BBC and ITV are still so sure of themselves and clear about their proposition and personality.

Strictly is the embodiment of Auntie Beeb’s values, while DOI is unashamedly more commercial in its pursuit of scandal.

Even the time of year they air adds to how they are perceived. You know when The One Show starts drip-feeding the Strictly next contestants as summer starts to fade we’re gearing up for cosy autumnal Saturday nights that ooze sophistication, with sparkles and sequins shining brighter as nights grow darker and we tango towards the festive period.

Is it just me who writes their Christmas cards during the Strictly final? Or starts panic-ordering presents online once the Glitterball trophy is handed over?

Come January and we’re all in a post-festive slump, skint and run down after December’s indulgences and in desperate need of some feel-good fun to distract us from the fact we’re trying to stay off the booze for the next four weeks.

Along come national heroes Torvill and Dean with their laidback brilliance, trying not to snigger in VT’s of famous folk stacking it in a suburban ice rink during day one of training.

Even the judge’s respective catchphrases prove the point: Craig Revel Horwood’s droll delivery of the word ‘Fabulous’, divided into three elongated syllables spoken in haughty RP gets rapturous applause and is as good as seeing the elusive ‘10’ paddle being held aloft.

New DOI panellist John Barrowman has come armed with his own version, which is basically saying the same word but shouting it with extra gusto and a knowingly-naff showbiz grin.

It sums up how it lays down the gauntlet to Strictly – DOI do pretty much the same thing but bigger, louder, and with added jazz hands. Long may it continue.