This time last year, there were doubts about whether Ant McPartlin would be back to present I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
Summer 2017 had seen Ant check into rehab, and at the Edinburgh TV Festival that August ITV boss Kevin Lygo was asked what was going to happen to the upcoming run of the reality show that November.
“Ant is doing really well and we’re expecting him to return to I’m a Celebrity, so we won’t be resting it,” he replied at the time. He was then asked if Ant was irreplaceable. Lygo’s reply? “Yes”.
Fast-forward a year and the situation is looking very different…
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It’s now been confirmed that Ant definitely won’t be presenting I’m a Celebrity this year, saying in a statement “my recovery is going very well and for that to continue having spoken to Dec and ITV, I have made the decision to take the rest of the year off.
“I’d like to thank both Dec and ITV for their continued support and I look forward to getting back to work in the new year.”
But I’m a Celebrity 2018 is going ahead – ITV were always unlikely to take one of their highest rating shows off air, even just for a year – and Ant’s co-host Declan Donnelly is booking his flight to Australia.
So how will the show manage Ant’s absence? What could I’m a Celebrity look like without him?
“An announcement on I’m a Celebrity plans will be made in due course,” said Lygo. Does that hint that, unlike when he took the reins solo for both Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain’s Got Talent, Dec won’t be alone when he fronts the show this November?
Earlier this year, Dec more than proved himself as a confident, capable and engaging presenter. But I’m a Celebrity is a very different beast to the other live shows he’s taken on by himself.
The jungle reality series is live, every single night, for three weeks. It requires a lot of fresh scripted comedy material and for the past 15 years that has relied solely on playing off the relationship between Ant and Dec. They take it in turns as the straight man, have running gags they drop in nightly and their second-nature timing and skilled comedic partnership shines brighter here than in any of their other vehicles.
If Dec is by himself, presenting the show in a relatively direct, down-the-camera style, that comedy shorthand will be lost.
Dec would have to rely – as he did a little during BGT and Takeaway – on those around him. Whether that was the likes of guest announcer Stephen Merchant in Takeaway or sharing quips amongst the assembled audience on BGT, Dec without Ant has shown he can do jokes and play up to an assembled group. The problem is that without his right-hand man, the humour and jokes only go one way.
Over the years, the cameramen, producers and miscellaneous crew on I’m a Celebrity have played a bigger and bigger part in the show – and the jokes. That could now be something that really pays off, because if Dec hosts by himself, he can make larger characters and parts from the crew who regularly heckle and chip in. That cheeky relationship – with the “stop it you”s and the like – could form the backbone of the comedy that is essential in I’m a Celebrity.
Of course, the alternative to having Dec by himself is having Dec with someone else. Bookies are already offering odds on previous winners Scarlett Moffatt, Vicky Pattison and Georgia ‘Toff’ Toffolo, alongside ITV stablemates like Holly Willoughby, Philip Schofield and Stephen Mulhern.
Whilst this isn’t a bad idea, it doesn’t feel like a particularly good one either. When hosting Saturday Night Takeaway, ITV were at pains to say that Moffatt and Mulhern weren’t his co-hosts. They had slightly more ‘expanded’ roles in Ant’s absence, but they were in no way his replacements.
To go back on that now and draft in another ITV face to stand next to Dec would not only water down the Ant & Dec brand, it would almost make it look as though, despite such valiant efforts earlier in the year, they didn’t trust him to present this one by himself.
I’m a Celebrity is unmissable. But that’s not because we get to see D-listers lose their dignity on TV; these days you can see that anywhere. The real magic behind the show’s success and longevity is Ant and Dec.
Without their comedy partnership, mercilessly taking the mick and affectionately ribbing the celebs, what is left of the show?
This November, whether we like it or not, we’re going to find out.
I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! returns to ITV later this year