Strictly's Executive Producer Sarah James reveals all about the changes made to this year's series, and the BBC treat us to a glimpse of the new set as well as a sneak peek at what has already been filmed.
For the past four weeks, all the professional dancers have been isolating together in a hotel in order to record all the group numbers for this year's series. This involved a total of 14 routines and over 300 costume changes!
Speaking to I Talk Telly and other press last week, Strictly's Executive Producer Sarah James told us "We've recorded our 14 group numbers ahead of the series. It's really proved to us over the last few weeks that we can make it work. I think (the group numbers) look even more stunning than ever before."
How will it work?
"We're using close contact cohorts which is an industry workplace guideline and also bubbles" said Sarah James.
Going on to explain what those terms meant, she said "Close contact cohorts basically apply to people who need to work more closely together and break social distancing in order to do their job. To be in a CCC it has to be an exclusive CCC so it has to just be with one person and you are regularly tested.
"On top of that we are also asking our celebrities and dancers to be part of an exclusive support bubble which is a wider term also available to people in the public. That means that one half of the party has to live alone. Either the dancer or the celebrity will be living on their own in order to form the exclusive support bubble."
In terms of hair and make-up teams this year, Sarah revealed that "Previously, the hair and make-up teams were able to work with as many of the different cast as they wanted to or they needed to. Whereas this year we'll have specific hair and make-up people assigned to specific couples to make sure that people aren't mixing too much."
"When salons and hairdressers began to re-open, it meant that we were able to have our hair and make-up teams working" she added.
And for the rest of the crew she confirmed "Everybody will be distancing, [...] we have reduced the numbers of people in the studio itself. Everybody has to sign a self-declaration form that they don't have any symptoms before they enter site."
"Everybody is temperature-checked. And everybody wears face coverings at all times. There's sanitiser everywhere. The studio is deep cleaned every evening and throughout the day."
The Strictly Ballroom
When it comes to this year's Strictly set, Sarah James revealed "We've had to reduce the amount of crew we can have in the studio. So we've got new camera plans. Our director Nikki has got some really exciting new tracking cameras which will enable us to get different shots. We've added extra lighting and changed the set design a little bit which you can see in the pictures."
As you can see from the photographs above, this year all three judges, Craig Revel-Horwood, Motsi Mabuse and Shirley Ballas will be separated from one another, each sitting on a different desk.
As revealed a few months back, Bruno Tonioli will be in LA dues to his commitments on Dancing With the Stars, which means he won't be in the studio scoring the couples like he normally would be. However, Sarah did clarify Bruno's role on the show this year confirming that he will feature in Sunday's results show.
"He will be able to watch the show on a live link over in LA, and although he won't be scoring, we'll get an update from him on what he thinks of the couples. He'll also be able to call out his fellow judges in the results show if he disagrees with any of their comments."
Talking about what other changes have been made to this year's set, Sarah said "We're also going to be using this year something which we've wanted to do for a few years and this year was just the perfect opportunity to do it. It's called augmented reality and it's something that some of the other territories have done before."
"You might have seen a kind of taste of it in what we've done previously with our floor projections - we can make things look 3D in the studio. Augmented reality can basically take that a step further. In a live show, usually our crew set some of the big set pieces within a one-minute-and-thirty VT. That will be a lot more difficult this year with distancing and having to sanitise everything."
Hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman will both be back, but what do the new restrictions mean for Claudia who traditionally stays with all the couples during the show upstairs in her 'Clauditorium', cheering everyone on and speak to the couples after each performance?
Explaining the changes that have had to be made this year, Sarah said "Claudia will obviously only be able to speak to one couple at a time in her area upstairs. We won't be able to have all the cast up there like usual."
And as you can see from the photograph above, she told us "the other couples will be watching from the audience this year. We've got distanced tables for them opposite the judges side. And they will all be able to watch each other so I think you'll still really get that sense of camaraderie and of them all being able to support each other."
Teasing us further, we were told that the team have "come up with some other fun creative ideas we can do up in Claudia's area." So I guess we'll just have to watch this space.
Dave Arch and his band
What about Dave Arch his band and wonderful singers? I hear you ask. Well, thankfully, Sarah was delighted to confirm "Dave Arch will be back. I can't imagine Strictly without Dave and the band. There will obviously again be some differences."
"We aren't able to fit the whole of the band in the band pit, so parts of the band will be pre-recorded earlier in the week. But Dave will be there. The singers will be there. And a few other key members of the band."
The launch show
The pre-recorded launch show usually takes place a couple of weeks before the live shows start and is traditionally the first time the celebrities find out which professional they'll be partnered with. But things are a little different this year.
"The big difference is that we're going to be pairing our celebrities with their dancers in VT rather than in the studio like previous years. It's a bit more difficult with distancing but we've got some incredible locations for those VTs so I'm really excited about how they will look." teased Sarah James.
Going on to reveal "We will still have a group dance with celebrities so everybody will have a little taste of what the celebrities can do on that launch show. But obviously where they usually all dance together, that won't be possible this year, so all of the celebrities will be just be dancing with their pro partners for that number."
She also confirmed "We'll still have group dances (and) we're planning to have a guest music act for the launch show. Which I can exclusively reveal this year will be Joel Corry and MNEK."
The rest of the series
Sarah confirmed the news we already knew which is that this year's series won't be heading to Blackpool, but there was some good news as she told us "we will be doing a very special celebration of Blackpool in one of our shows."
And that's not the only change, "As we've already announced, it's going to be a shorter run. For a few different reasons really. Firstly obviously, the group numbers we recorded ahead of the series - so that was going to take a bit of time - and also the crew actually loading in the set took a lot longer with them all having to distance."
"We're having a launch show followed by a nine-week live run. There'll be no elimination on the first week as per previous series. The first results show will be on week two."
"We will have Movie Week and we will have Musicals Week, but we won't have Halloween this year. We have done a Halloween group number, but Halloween actually falls on the second week this year so we thought it might be a bit early for a themed week."
But there is some good news - or bad, depending on your viewpoint as Sarah confirmed "We'll have a guest music act for every results show as well. We'll be able to have some dancers performing with them as per usual."
The professional dancers
Confirming reports that Neil Jones would not be given a celebrity partner this series, Sarah also told us the names of the other professional dancers who also won't be competing this year. And they are (as well as Neil); Nadiya Bychkova, Graziano Di Prima and Nancy Xu.
But that doesn't mean we won't be seeing them this series. Instead, they will be performing in the group numbers, with Sarah explaining "We have two males and two females. And they will be forming CCC's together so that they are able to dance with the guest music acts."
Since joining Strictly in 2018, Graziano has only ever been partnered with one celebrity - Vick Hope in his very first year. This news means that 2020 is now the second year running for him to be out of the competition. Neil Jones, who joined the show in 2016, was finally given a partner in 2019, but despite finishing fifth with Alex Scott, he's back to the subs bench this year.
Having joined the show in 2017, 2020 will be the first year Nadiya Bychkova hasn't been given a celebrity partner. She of course has previously been partnered with Davood Ghadami, Lee Ryan and David James.
And Nancy Xu, who joined the show last year is yet to be partnered with a celebrity. Maybe 2021 will be her year?
"To be completely honest, I can't really comment at the moment because following the announcement this week, things could be changing again. But we are prepped for any scenario. So if at any point things change, we can add or we can take away." said Sarah.
Adding "We've made plans for no audience, we've made plans for a distanced audience and we've made plans for a full audience - whatever happens we'll obviously just be following the government guidelines."
Just in case you needed reminding of who this year's celebrities are, they include EastEnders and TikTok star Maisie Smith, comedian, musician and actor Bill Bailey, actor Caroline Quentin, Radio 1 DJ and TV presenter Clara Amfo, Good Morning Britain's Ranvir Singh and television personality Jamie Laing who returns following his rather early exit last year, just minutes after the launch show, due to injury.
And joining them will be former member of The Wanted, Max George, television presenter and former Royal Marine and Invictus Games Medallist JJ Chalmers, broadcaster and former NFL Player Jason Bell, pop star HRVY, former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and boxer Nicola Adams OBE who will be part of the first ever same-sex pairing on the show.
Speaking about the decision to have a same-sex pairing on the show this year, Sarah said "I'm so excited to have Nicola (Adams) on the show. The decision to have her on the show was because she's a world class athlete, she's a household name and she's just the loveliest person. I know she'll throw herself into the competition and into training."
"When we initially spoke to her she made it very clear that she wanted to dance with a female partner so we were really really happy to be able to make that happen."
"Our pro dancers are used to dancing in same-sex pairings and we've seen them do that over the years in group numbers. The show is about dance. So I'm very excited to see what Nicola will bring to the show and to the dance floor."
What if someone tests positive for Covid-19?
Earlier this month it was revealed that a member of the production team on Strictly had received a positive test result.
Explaining exactly what happened, Sarah James told us "It was a really good dry run for us actually. He had a test when working on another show and it came back positive. It just meant that all our contingencies kicked in. Again, I was really really impressed with how brilliantly the team all responded."
"Anybody who had been in any of the areas that he worked with in the studio, was immediately sent home for a test, and they all received their test and had to isolate and weren't allowed back on site until they received a negative test."
"The person in question actually then went and had two more tests, and both those tests came back negative so although it was a false alarm, it was a great dry run for us."
Once the series is up and running, Sarah reassured us "We have a contingency plan for every eventuality. We kind of have been through quite a lot of it I think over the last few months and changed things regularly. Some things will have to change back and that's fine. We're confident that we'll still be able to put the show on and we'll just be ready to make those changes where necessary."
But if a celebrity or professional dancer tests positive, then sadly that rules them out of the competition. "Unfortunately, if you receive a positive test, that means that you wouldn't be able to continue in the competition. Obviously according to government guidelines if you receive a positive test you have to isolate for two weeks and that would unfortunately rule them out of the show." said Sarah.
Strictly Come Dancing returns Saturday 17th October on BBC One