EastEnders is on a transmission break until 7th September 2020, having officially ran out of episodes on 16th June due to the national lockdown that forced all UK soaps to cease production back in March. Filming resumed at the Elstree studios in Hertfordshire on 29th June.
It is the first time since 1985 the BBC's flagship soap has vanished from the schedules,
While ITV counterparts Coronation Street and Emmerdale managed to phase back to filming before their stock of completed episodes were exhausted, and will continue to air uninterrupted, EastEnders went back into production slightly later. With new episodes months away from hitting the screens, rumours are swirling the BBC drama is set to make some drastic changes when it returns.
When will EastEnders be back?
EastEnders returns on Monday 7th September at 8pm on BBC One. The date was rumoured back in June when Dayle Hudson (aka Peter Beale) posted an image on social media of a script with a clearly visible transmission date. The show will be back up to broadcasting four nights a week but initially each episode will only be 20 minutes long
Tabloid reports would have us believe bosses plan to scrap the majority of current storylines for a proposed 'reboot', effectively capping off the last 35 years as EastEnders: Season 1 before 'Season 2' kicks off later this year, starting a whole new batch of plots from scratch.
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This is pure speculation, but it does raise the interesting question of how EastEnders will handle the unprecedented time jump. We rejoin the Walford locals in ‘real time’ so three months would have passed since the last new episode aired in June. What happened in the lockdown gap will be discussed among the characters in the past tense and viewers will have to fill in the gaps as they’re brought up to speed in dialogue – and possibly the odd flashback…?
When did EastEnders start filming again?
Filming recommenced on 29th June.
With new social distancing and safety measures impacting on all TV production, the usually fast-paced process of making a soap could take a little longer, as there will be a whole host of government guidelines and restrictions to work within for the first time.
EastEnders will return with four episodes a week, each timed at 20 minutes long. This will no doubt help the production make the new episodes a little faster. Corrie and Emmerdale have confirmed they are going back up from the reduced schedule pattern of three episodes a week to six from mid-September, having adapted to the new normal for slightly longer than their BBC rival.
While having one of their flagship shows off air for any amount of time is not ideal, BBC One could also be eyeing up a more bells-and-whistles relaunch in the autumn, so it makes more sense to wait until September.
Keeping EastEnders on hold to make a bigger, triumphant splash of a comeback in the autumn would give the channel a bigger boost and distract audiences from the paucity of new programming.
As the announcement about production resuming was made, EastEnders unveiled a new mural by British-born Ghanaian artist Neequaye Dsane, known as Dreph, adorning the wall on the corner of Bridge Street, opposite the Queen Victoria pub.
The specially-commissioned 5 x 2 metre artwork depicts a Black British woman and is intended to reflect the country's multi-cultural, modern society as part of the soap's relaunch and commitment to tackling social issues.
What will the storylines be when EastEnders returns?
Much secrecy surrounds what shape storylines will be in when the soap is back in business, and we've jumped ahead in time from the Sharon buys the pub doof-doof, but little morsels are being teased here and there:
It's confirmed Kat Moon will be back, following Jessie Wallace's reported suspension from the cast back in January, and has spent lockdown with lover Kush Kazemi, and we know Martin Fowler and Ruby Allen will be in the throes of a passionate affair started during isolation, just as Stacey Fowler arrives home to Walford.
Ben and Callum will be apart when the show returns, and dark secrets from Denise's past will be explored although more light-hearted times are ahead with confirmation on-screen sister Tameka Empson will be back as Kim, following the actress's maternity leave.
Meanwhile, Mick and Linda Carter face a testing time having sold the Vic to Sharon Watts, with Danny Dyer revealing the couple will have one potentially one of the best storylines he's had during their time on the show.
While it's unlikely every single plot will be thrown out, inevitably there will be a sense of starting over and certain stories having to be considerably tweaked, or shelved with some expository dialogue filling us in, to account for the fact it will be months before we're back on Albert Square.
Excitingly, some stories would've already started while the audience was away and we'll be playing catch up as Walford life is unlikely to stand still, even in lockdown. Could that rumoured new affair have kicked off over the summer? And just how steamy will it be from a two-metre distance?
There's also an opportunity for writers and producers to be more inventive than ever, in-keeping with EastEnders' increasing love of experimentation and format-busting. We've already had the Christmas Day flashback, Linda Carter's point of view episode jumping forward in time and perception, and February's flash forward multi-perspective week that replayed the same day from various viewpoints.
I'm imagining the relaunch starts with a montage of significant events showing what's been happening during the lost weeks. Maybe it'll be like that scene in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant walks through Portobello market in a musical interlude where the seasons change around him? We've counted up there's roughly 15 cliffhangers that need resolving...
At the very least I'm hoping for Letitia Dean to record a breathy voiceover to recap where we left things on that wonderful day, hopefully not too far ahead, when the show is properly back in business: "Previously on EastEnders…"