Strictly Irish ballroom... the dream line-up
The hit BBC format 'Strictly Come Dancing' is heading to Irish screens. Our reporter traces the rise of a TV phenomenon, and narrows down his dream line-up
It could be the biggest thing to hit Irish television since the glory days of 'Zig and Zag', 'Glenroe', and Gay Byrne being shouted at by priests on the 'Late Late Show'. RTE is planning a homegrown version of the BBC's 'Strictly Come Dancing' for early 2017, under its international title of 'Dancing With The Stars'. Buckle up for more swirling gowns and glittering brocades than six months worth of Jean Byrne weather forecasts.
That RTE would set its sights on 'Strictly' is no surprise. Twelve years on the hoof, this feel-good mash-up of talent show and behind-the-scenes docudrama has proved ratings stardust.
The show has introduced a generation to the twinkle-toed thrills of the cha-ha, the foxtrot and the rumba (not blends of cocktail, as many previously assumed) and delighted us with lashings of genuine on-screen chemistry between competitors.
Last season even managed to make Daniel O'Donnell look vaguely louche and swaggering - a television miracle for the ages.
In fact, the state broadcaster, and its regular independent collaborator Shinawil productions, have been wooing the BBC for aeons ('Dancing with the Stars' will replace Shinawil's dreary talent show 'The Voice Of Ireland').
The franchise is incredibly lucrative for the British organisation, second only to 'Top Gear' as a global cash-cow (and with less chance of the presenters randomly slapping someone backstage). Spin-offs include 'Dancing With The Stars in the USA' and sibling shows in Argentina and China, where 14 millions viewers regularly tune in (it goes as 'Strictly' only in the UK).
To date, though, the BBC, no doubt mindful of 'Strictly''s popularity in Ireland, and of the brand's sterling reputation, has resisted Irish overtures (they are probably aware of the disappointment that has historically ensued when Irish producers get their mitts on properties such as 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' and 'The Weakest Link') .
"It was one of those shows that the BBC keep close to their chest," Shinawil's Larry Bass told Ray D'Arcy this week. "It's a hugely important format for them and they're very particular where it goes and what happens to it. Finally they've agreed to allow RTE do it."
Strictly's popularity might be considered a surprise - but only if you think it's about choreography. Actually it's much more than that, in that it's also an all too rare example of a reality show that invites us to cheer the participants rather than applaud their downfall and humiliation. In that regard it is the anthesis of 'I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!' or 'Celebrity Big Brother', programmes that actively invite us to jeer at the screen.
Plus, it's a strictly PG kinda show, without the nude antics of the aforementioned Channel 5 show, and certainly with far less fights, tantrums and bad language.
'Strictly' also reveals aspects of well-known personalities that they otherwise keep out of public view. We probably all guessed that Daniel O'Donnell was not the world's greatest exponent of the cha cha, yet who could have suspected he would prove as good a sport as he did?Or that Nicky Byrne could transcend a lifetime of dreadful Westlife videos and excel on the dance floor, as he did when appearing on 'Strictly' in 2012?
"When Irish people watch Daniel or Nicky do it in the UK they follow that journey where they have their ups and downs trying to get together the ability to dance at that level," Bass told D'Arcy. "It's a phenomenon to be able to turn somebody who's not a dancer into a professional dancer in a matter of weeks."
Yet although the show itself is squeaky clean, that isn't to say there isn't the occasional hint of soap opera sizzle behind the scenes. Celebrities tend to be out-going and good-looking and, when you place lots of such people in close physical proximity, sparks are inevitable. Hence the infamous "Strictly Curse" whereby A-listers in solid relationships have their heads turned by their 'Strictly' collaborators.
But the big question, of course, is which Irish celebrities could be tempted to twirl around the tiles on RTE? Allow us to imagine our dream 'Irish Dancing With The Stars' line-up:
The former Fine Gael minister is known for his erotic fiction, but he also seems quite light of foot and would be a stellar addition to any line-up. British politician Ed Balls is taking part in this season of the UK version, perhaps he'll inspire Al.
Another one touted for the British version, we hope Laura keeps her dancing shoes for the RTE production instead. Who knows if she can boogie, but she has an air about her that screams "winner".
The beloved novelist is a massive 'Strictly' fan, and has appeared on it spin-off show 'It Takes Two' numerous times. We bet she'd be mortified at the mere suggestion of her taking part, but who better than a superfan?
The beautiful model-turned-foodie is fit enough to handle the training and would look amazing in the barely there costumes. If RTE have any sense, they'll have signed her already.
Journalist and chat-show host Miriam already dresses like she's on 'Strictly', so why not go the whole hog and sign up? Beloved by pretty much everyone, she'd be a shoo-in for the final.
He's very stylish and well groomed, a former boybander and he's incredibly athletic, so why shouldn't the TV3 weatherman be considered? Pitting him against fellow cloud aficionado Jean Byrne would be a ratings winner.
Many might not know that the 'Poldark' star was a champion ballroom dancer for 10 years before he turned to acting. That might be a bit unfair on the others though.
We know she can move from her days as a pop star, so Sammy would be an ideal candidate - and the cha cha cha might put the singer back in the spotlight where she belongs.
The dream "get" for any Irish reality TV show, Anne's expressions alone would be enough to get us to tune in.