What's going to happen to Britain's Got Talent following Ant's break from TV?
With presenter Ant McPartlin seeking treatment in rehab, ITV has some decisions to make about one of their biggest shows
Britain's Got Talent is due to return to our screens this April, the same way it has done every spring for the past decade.
But this year one of the show's main stars is on a hiatus from TV. Ant McPartlin is, as a statement from ITV reads, "taking time off to seek treatment" as he returns to rehab. He has since been charged with drink driving.
- Saturday Night Takeaway will not air this weekend
- ITV reveals which programmes will replace Saturday Night Takeaway
One episode of Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway has already been cancelled, while the final two instalments in the current run will be hosted by McPartlin's long-term collaborator Declan Donnelly – on his own.
The decisions made on Takeaway's remaining shows inevitably raise questions about Britain's Got Talent, which has been hosted by Ant and Dec since it first broadcast in 2007. Will it be postponed? Or will ITV press ahead with one of their most commercially and critically successful shows?
Syco – Simon Cowell's production company which makes the entertainment programme for ITV – are staying tight-lipped about the possible implications for the series this year.
But with Britain's Got Talent due to return on 14th April, the first question is whether it will go ahead?
All of BGT's pre-recorded content has already been filmed with returning judges Cowell, Amanda Holden, David Walliams and Alesha Dixon. Theatre auditions were held in January and February this year and featured Ant and Dec standing at the side of the stage playing silly games, encouraging the contestants and making endless lighthearted quips.
So would broadcasting this footage of the pair having a laugh and a joke be pouring levity on what is a very serious situation? Viewers know full well what has happened in Ant's private life. Having him feature in such a fun and energetic show in tandem with what is happening off screen might not sit right with viewers.
ITV has to make a decision about BGT soon; broadcasters are required to confirm their TV schedules for Saturday 14th April by Wednesday 4th April. Ironically, this is the same date that has been set for Ant to appear at Wimbledon Magistrates' Court.
This leaves ITV with a matter of weeks to work out what to do. If they decide to progress with the show as normal, it would likely mean that the live stage of the competition would fall at the end of May or beginning of June. This is the point in the competition where BGT airs live every single night for a whole week.
If Ant is still absent, Dec will be faced with the prospect of hosting the show by himself, or working with alternative presenters like Dermot O'Leary or Emma Willis.
Dec hosting the final two episodes of Saturday Night Takeaway felt like a necessary sticking plaster; something that needed to be put in place to avoid letting down fans, many of whom had already won tickets to the show's Orlando finale.
But Dec hosting all of BGT by himself in two months' time? That's a different proposition. It would be a conscious, planned and thought-out decision that moves the pair further from what they wrote in their (joint) autobiography in 2010.
"We made an agreement," said Ant at the time. "Whatever happens, we'll be mates forever, and neither one of us would ever be on our own out there."
Britain's Got Talent is one of ITV's most prized assets. In a list of the 10 most-watched shows of 2017, only three from ITV made the cut. One was Broadchurch (five), while the other two were Ant and Dec-fronted shows. I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! placed at number three, while BGT was placed sixth.
Scrapping, postponing or deciding on a hiatus for one or both of these shows would have huge financial repercussions, particularly on ITV's advertising revenue. The presenters' reported three-year £30 million "golden handcuffs" deal made in 2016 is indication enough of their value to the broadcaster, a contract that requires them to remain with the channel until 2019.
Some unconfirmed tabloid reports have suggested that Ant has already withdrawn from presenting the live week of BGT this year, but whether this comes to fruition remains to be seen.
What we do know is that as it stands, Dec is having to shoulder the weight of the Ant and Dec brand by himself. But it won't be long before decisions over some of ITV's biggest programmes – and the future for Ant and Dec on them – will need to be made.