TV Viewpoint – Strictly Come Dancing and Press

As everyone with a TV licence and an affinity for staying in on a Saturday night with a bottle of wine and a takeaway knows, the new season of Strictly Come Dancing marks the beginning of autumn. In the Great British Bake-Off school of cosy television (with added glitz and glam), Strictly is a stark contrast to the big, brash and bold X Factor, with Strictly’s parade of minor celebrities with a press team behind them eager for a carefully constructed public profile boost versus the X Factor’s cattle-mart of wide-eyed hopefuls, some with genuine talent, some with none but with an inexorable desire to be famous, all with a big ‘ol dream and zero experience with how editing works and how the media picks apart the most vulnerable.

Strictly’s 2018 lineup

Strictly started on Saturday with a pre-recorded show to introduce the new contestants and a handful of new professional dancers, and to reacquaint the audience with the hosts and judges. Flashier and splashier than I’d been expecting (for some reason) it was nevertheless full of cheer and high spirits. It’s always a bit of a treat to see the professional dancers put on a spectacular group performance before being paired off with the celebs, and this year was no exception, especially with the addition of Nile Rogers and Chic to play them in.

Afterwards the contestants were given the opportunity to introduce themselves, and the usual line-up of BBC soap actors, comedians and broadcasters, sports stars and a social media personality, who shyly but proudly proclaimed he was 13 million followers on You Tube to a largely middle-aged audience who couldn’t care less what that means, were then paired off with the pros. A group dance featuring all the new stars and the dancers closed the show, the overall reason probably being to show the audience how much work the new pairs need, thus justifying the fourteen-day wait until the live shows begin. But wait we will, in anticipation of some chemistry and can-can.

Press got off to a juicy start on BBC on Thursday at 9pm, with the opening lines “My name is Holly Evans. I’m a journalist.” Art imitates life in this serial documenting the inner workings of two different newspapers, one a Guardian-esque broadsheet called The Herald, the other a savvy and sly tabloid that goes by the name of The Post. The first episode was called Death Knock, which was explained in a scene between Ed, a rookie reporter just starting at The Post, and his smart but ruthless and bullying editor Duncan Allen as the practice of attempting an interview with a grieving family. The parents in question are reeling from the suicide of their son, a promising young footballer who apparently hanged himself after a blackmailer threatened to reveal he was gay.

Ben Chaplin and Charlotte Riley in Press

This is one of a number of overlapping stories being investigated by the papers, including the death of a woman called Andrea Reed who was hit by a police car that didn’t stop, and the emergence of incendiary thirty-year-old photos of prominent MP Carla Mason. The two papers take different views on this; The Post encourages the MP to join their “Check me Out” campaign, that encourages young people to “have fun” while being safe, or else he’ll splash the picture all over the front page, the editor of The Herald acknowledges that they have a link to the picture on their website because it’s a story that people are talking about but will be featuring the story on page 4 as a feature on misogyny.

A montage of the papers’ production teams putting together the reports at the end of the day shows the different approaches each editorial team makes, seeing the same stories taking on different meanings, the angles showing the stories under very different lights. The Herald leads with the footballer story, proclaiming it a tragedy; The Post bumps it further back the paper with the headline saying his parents had no idea who he was. The tabloid splashes the MP picture on the front, now also featuring drugs and thus ending her political career, The Herald keeps its promise and treats it as a piece focusing on sexism.

Throwing in a plot teasing the uncovering of a shady MI5 operation and the dogged determination to get to the bottom of the hit-and-run, Press has got a lot going on, and fit a great deal into its first episode of six. The machinations are skilfully turning, and I’ll be tuning in again next week to see where the trails lead.

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