EastEnders is nowhere near the axe – it's having a renaissance
As reports of EastEnders struggling hit the papers and airwaves, let's have a dose of reality, please.
Rumours of EastEnders’ near-demise are not just greatly exaggerated – in fact, they’re just not true.
Earlier this year, I wrote about how the soap was actually in the best shape it had been in years and was finally back to being the top soap on British TV.
The months since have only further proven everything I had argued about the state of the show in its current era under executive producer Chris Clenshaw, who took over last year.
The flagship BBC One soap has returned to its roots with a sense of community, riveting characters and a rotation of engrossing but always character-first storytelling.
Whether it’s the tearjerking loss of Lola Pearce-Brown (Danielle Harold), the harsh reality of Whitney Dean (Shona McGarty) and Zack Hudson (James Farrar) losing baby Peach, Denise Fox (Diane Parish) facing an identity crisis leading to a lustful betrayal with the dangerous Ravi Gulati (Aaron Thiara), or the fiery romance between Suki Panesar (Balvinder Sopal) and Eve Unwin (Heather Peace) – there is never a lack of a headline story every week, and all with actors at the top of their game.
There are also charismatic new faces with the likes of the Knight family and Bobby Brazier’s Freddie Slater, revitalised characters including Sam Mitchell (Kim Medcalf) and Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick), and the returns of some iconic characters, most recently with the fabulously camp water cooler moment of Michelle Collins returning as Cindy Beale in a twist that set social media alight – despite the leaking of the surprise ahead of time.
Of course, who can forget that game-changing flash-forward twist that changed the way we see every episode going forward? Placing the matriarchs of the Square fully at its centre, EastEnders is truly at the highest point of its creative powers in almost a decade – if not longer.
Yet, the reports of issues facing the show are not just unfounded complaints about quality or a reductive notion of “wokeness” – which for a soap so character-led does not feel like an exercise in political correctness at all – but also claims that viewership is tanking.
Firstly, soaps are of course nowhere near the zenith of multiple decades ago. Viewing habits have changed, there are infinite options of viewing content, and genres go through ebbs and flows of what is fashionable.
However, EastEnders remains one of the highest-rated shows on BBC iPlayer – it had its best year ever on the platform last year and was the most viewed show over the most contested time in British television, the festive period.
Over the last fortnight, EastEnders has also been streamed almost 18 million times and is listed as the most popular show on the platform.
Terrestrial viewing figures won’t be what they once were and as the summer months see chaos in scheduling due to sporting events, the soap moves to BBC Two or other time slots, meaning it will always suffer a loss in the terrestrial ratings.
Elsewhere, the soap has embraced the streaming age by placing episodes on BBC iPlayer at 6am, meaning many viewers are now accessing the soap through this method as well as watching live on terrestrial television.
Vitally, the soap keeps some of its biggest twists and reveals for the live broadcast, enabling fans and passing viewers to experience the huge shocks together and add to the buzz – as highlighted by the epic social reactions to the likes of Lily Slater’s pregnancy reveal, the Christmas flash-forward, and Cindy’s return.
It isn’t just that soaps are for older audiences now, either, as the TikTok generation of millennials and Gen Z kids have especially taken to the stories with authentic-feeling younger characters, while the soap itself has embraced social media in all of its forms with more behind-the-scenes looks and interaction with devoted fans.
The soap is simultaneously winning back some of its older viewers, keeping its current fans hooked and winning new younger fans in the process - and the feedback is overwhelming to see on social media.
Some may have cited the exit of Danny Dyer as pub landlord Mick Carter as a hit for the show but his exit was an epic Christmas instalment and his on-screen wife Linda Carter (Kellie Bright) has been revitalised ever since and now has a whole new clan around her to bounce off of with the Knights and her mother Elaine Peacock, played by Harriet Thorpe in the tradition of EastEnders grand dames of old.
There has also been a flurry of returns in recent months and it is no surprise so many actors want to return when the show is in such a good place – from Lisa Fowler (Lucy Benjamin) to Peter Beale (Thomas Law) to Yolande Trueman (Angela Wynter). The warmth for the soap behind the scenes is palpable and really translates across all publicity, more than any other soap currently or even EastEnders itself in recent years.
Finally, EastEnders took home the most coveted prize of the genre – Best Soap at the British Soap Awards 2023 – which was voted for by viewers and had not been won by the show in almost a decade.
If that is not indicative of the show’s current high quality and the love of the British public then I don’t know what is.
- EastEnders 2023 summer preview: 5 spoilers from Chris Clenshaw
- 5 EastEnders spoilers next week: Lisa Fowler returns – but what’s she hiding?
- EastEnders’ Lucy Benjamin reveals young co-star recreated iconic Peggy Mitchell line
- EastEnders' Balvinder Sopal wants Ash return if Suki and Eve go public
- EastEnders summer return for Angela Wynter as Yolande Trueman
- EastEnders’ Anna Knight determined to find mum amid Peter Beale update
- EastEnders boss Chris Clenshaw promises “big” Christmas for the Beales
- EastEnders' Michelle Collins confirms flashbacks and Cindy Beale breakdown
- EastEnders boss Chris Clenshaw reveals impact of Cindy return on Knights
- EastEnders' Adam Woodyatt hypes up Ian reunions with Phil and Sharon
- EastEnders' Michelle Collins teases Cindy’s scenes with love rival Elaine
- 6 EastEnders spoilers next week: Kim faces court and Martin suspects Theo
- EastEnders boss Chris Clenshaw on “different” Cindy and Ian reunion
- EastEnders' explosive Cindy Beale comeback is a campy soap triumph
- EastEnders' Ian Beale has heart attack and keeps huge secret from Cindy
- Will Jacqueline Jossa return full-time to EastEnders as Lauren Branning?
- 15 EastEnders questions we still have after Cindy and Ian Beale's return
EastEnders airs Mondays to Thursdays at 7:30pm on BBC One and from 6am on BBC iPlayer. Visit our dedicated EastEnders page for all the latest news, interviews and spoilers. If you’re looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide and Streaming Guide.
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