EastEnders fans can still get their fix after the soap airs the last episodes completed before lockdown, with Stacey Dooley hosting new behind the scenes show Secrets From the Square and classic instalments from the archive filling the schedule gap from Monday 22nd June.
The final outing to Walford before the enforced transmission break kicks in will be shown on Tuesday 16th June, and the following week BBC One switches to a new twice-weekly pattern of EastEnders-related content in the usual slot, to keep viewers going while the soap prepares to resume production from mid-June.
EastEnders: Secrets From the Square airs on Monday nights, and sees Dooley sit down with two cast members in the Walford East restaurant set each week (with social distancing observed at all times, the channel assures us) to discuss their time on the show, reflect on their favourite moments, dish some juicy backstage gossip and tease what’s in store when the soap eventually returns.
Among the legendary stars joining self-confessed lifelong ‘Enders fan Dooley will be Letitia Dean (Sharon Watts), Adam Woodyatt (Ian Beale), Danny Dyer (Mick Carter), Kellie Bright (Linda Carter) and Diane Parish (Denise Fox), with many more to be announced.
On Tuesday nights, a selection of iconic instalments from the soap’s 35-year history will be broadcast giving the audience a chance to relive some unforgettable moments including Den and Angie’s pioneering two-hander from 1986, the explosive reveal of the Sharongate affair in 1994, and Max’s fling with daughter-in-law Stacey blowing the Branning apart on Christmas Day 2007.
Like all UK soaps, EastEnders was forced to temporarily postpone production shortly before the UK went into lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic on 23rd March.
With restrictions starting to ease and the government issuing guidelines for the safe resuming of film and TV production, ITV soap Emmerdale was the first to announce a phased return in late May, and counterpart Coronation Street will follow on 9th June.
While this means ITV’s continuing dramas can stay on air uninterrupted, the longer gap between EastEnders showing its last completed episodes and shooting starting up again means there will be an inevitable period where the show disappears from the schedules, a first since it began in 1985.
Channel 4’s Hollyoaks is yet to announce a return to filming, but have been treating fans to classic episodes with new cast introductions in Hollyoaks Favourites (Mondays-Wednesdays, 7pm on E4) since the number of weekly episodes was cut from five to two.
Commenting on how BBC One are managing this unprecedented scenario, EastEnders’ executive producer enthused that fans will still have reason to tune in on Monday and Tuesday evening before the programme is back in business.
“Although the drama from Albert Square will be off our screens for a short time, we are thrilled viewers will have a unique opportunity to see from the cast themselves just what it is like to be part of EastEnders when they see Secrets From the Square.
“As the cast look back, as well as forward, we can relive some of their most memorable moments and add a selection of iconic episodes into the mix, meaning the audience will get their fix until we return.”
Dooley’s weekly peeks backstage are expected to be shown throughout the transmission break, the duration of which remains unknown at this point as we wait until cast and crew are officially back on the Elstree set.
As such, no return date has been announced – pre-pandemic, EastEnders filmed a few months in advance, but that was when four episodes a week were being made. If the current twice-weekly pattern continues, at least initially, the BBC could feasibly turn around new episodes slightly quicker, meaning fresh instalments may hit our screens some time in August.
EastEnders: Secrets From the Square starts on BBC1 from Monday 22nd June at 8pm on BBC One, with archive episodes showing from Tuesday 23rd June at 7:30pm.