Before the last series of Strictly Come Dancing had even finished, the rumour mill was in full swing. And for once the biggest question wasn’t about who was and wasn’t dating.
It was whether or not new head judge Shirley Ballas would be coming back to Strictly in 2018. Some tabloid reports had suggested she might be thinking of leaving, and bookies even cut the odds on a return for retired judge Len Goodman.
But now reports are hinting that Shirley is close to signing on for another year of Strictly, and there’s no doubt that having the Queen of Latin back on the panel would be the absolute best decision all round.
Firstly, it’d be a coup for the show itself. The announcement of Goodman’s departure in 2016 was a big blow to Strictly. Head judge right from the beginning, and loved by viewers, he had kept the continuity of the programme alongside fellow judges Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli and host Tess Daly.
Strictly and Britain’s Got Talent are the most successful entertainment and talent shows currently on TV, and it’s no coincidence that BGT is about to begin its seventh consecutive series with exactly the same judging line-up of Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams.
Conversely, The X Factor panel has been chopped and changed an innumerable number of times in recent years (lest we forget in 2015 when Rita Ora and Nick Grimshaw were brought in to ‘freshen-up’ the panel only to be unceremoniously dropped for the following series) and has very much been struggling in the ratings.
When a panel clicks into place, a show feels more in sync, it blends better with audiences and people enjoy it more. Endless changes with faces coming and going hints at disarray and indecision. Some might argue identical panels year after year are boring; I would say it offers a pleasing consistency.
In keeping Shirley Ballas on as a judge, Strictly will not only be retaining a leading dancer and choreographer who’s widely renowned as one of the best in the world; it will also be maintaining continuity.
When she made her debut on the panel last year, Shirley had a bit of a bumpy ride and her inaugural year wasn’t without its controversies. Her feedback was deemed by some viewers to be too technical, while her casting vote to send Aston Merrygold home in week six was met with some raised eyebrows. That’s not to mention the whole hoo-ha with Brendan Cole over the presence and/or absence of ‘rise and fall’ in that Tango.
But let’s face it, whoever took up Goodman’s seat on the panel was going to face at least some criticism; it was inevitable. He had been a mainstay on the show since its inception in 2004 and if there’s one thing viewers have an intrinsic knee-jerk resentment of, it’s change to their favourite established TV show (see also: Top Gear, The Great British Bake Off).
When Darcey Bussell made her first appearance as a Strictly judge in 2012 many viewers didn’t immediately warm to her.
She was met with criticism for being “annoying” and her overuse of ‘yeah’ and ‘OK’ while giving her feedback. If she was made of less stern stuff, she could’ve thrown the towel in there and then. Thankfully, Bussell stayed. She was given time to bed in, to get used to the job – and now the panel simply wouldn’t be the same without her.
Sometimes these things take time. Shirley wasn’t perfect last year, but she was certainly very good – and that with the unenviable task of taking over from Len Goodman. But given another year or two, or three, or six? It’ll be hard to imagine what the show was ever like without her.
Strictly Come Dancing returns to BBC1 in the autumn