Strictly bosses have been urged to make at least one A-list signing next year after the latest series of the Saturday night dance spectacular shed one million viewers.
Fans have claimed the series – which reached a thrilling climax last night as soap star Kelvin Fletcher and dance partner Oti Mabusel lifted the famous glitterball trophy – is still a winner but warn that some of the dancers this year were better known than their celebrity partners.
This year’s contest saw a peak audience of almost 8.5 million and an average of 7.7 million viewers during the first live episode.
This amounts to almost 1.5 million fewer fans than 2018, which enjoyed a peak of 10 million and an average of 8.9 million.
Critics say the lack of big-name celebrities, changes to the judging panel and format alterations have affected this series and producers will need to up their game.
Sources suggest the BBC is already looking ahead to next year and is determined to push the show forward with more A-listers and possibly a same-sex couple.
Justine Sullivan, a celebrity booker who has secured stars for shows including Top Gear, says social media stars such as Joe Sugg and Saffron Barker are now sought-after contestants for reality shows, but producers must avoid alienating long-time viewers.
She said: “The social media element is huge in television now. It’s like TV land has suddenly realised they need to get on board with YouTube and social media stars.
“Producers are working with the same old format. What can you do that’s new to attract people? And they think, ‘Well, let’s get social media types’. But it’s a fine balancing act because older, loyal viewers won’t know who they are.
“Additionally, a lot of social media stars aren’t very good on television. They are used to talking to a camera in their bedrooms, then when you get a crew around them and say, ‘Right action’, they can’t do it.”
She added: “So much emphasis is placed on viewing figures. It’s make or break for a show.”
Entertainment writer Bill Gibb says bosses must perform a tricky balancing act to avoid the series, won by broadcaster Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton last year, becoming stale.
He said: “Once a show has been on a long run, which Strictly has after 17 series, some aspects tend to suffer. We have seen that with other shows like The X Factor.
“You will always have the loyal viewers who watch the show every year, but keeping the viewing figures up is almost a dichotomy for the producers. Change might help to attract new fans, but you also run the risk of alienating the current viewers.”
Another major change to this year’s Strictly was new executive producer Sarah James, who took over from Louise Rainbow after six successful years at the helm with steady viewing figures.
Three couples went into last night’s final. EastEnders star Emma Barton, 42, partnered veteran Strictly professional Anton du Beke and performed to the judges’ pick of a Charleston to Thoroughly Modern Millie from Musicals Week and a showdance to Let Yourself Go by Irving Berlin.
Partnered with Amy Dowden, CCBC presenter Karim Zeroual, 25, danced a showdance to A Million Dreams by Pink, the judges’ choice of their week seven routine to Mr Pinstripe Suit by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
Bookie’s favourite Kelvin Fletcher, 35, and professional Oti Mabuse, wowed the audience with their rumba to Ain’t No Sunshine from week four of the competition, and a showdance to Shout by The Isley Brothers.
They dazzled with a big finale, a reprise of their favourite dance from the series, a samba to La Vida Es Un Carnival. They scored 39 out of 40 with the judges and beat CBBC presenter Karim Zeroual and partner Amy Dowden in the public vote.
Actress Natalie Robb, who plays Moira Barton on Emmerdale and worked alongside Kelvin, says her former co-star could soon be hitting the stage in London’s West End.
She said: “Kelvin is doing tremendously, we’re all really proud of him. You can tell he absolutely loves it. He’s fantastic.
“Kelvin is a bit of a dark horse anyway, he’s very talented at a lot of different things but I was pretty impressed with some of the moves he’s done. It has required a lot of body strength so I’ve been very impressed with him, it looks like such hard work.
“Maybe this will set him up for other things. I bet he’ll end up in the West End or something. Good on him. He’s gone out his comfort zone and has absolutely smashed it.
“He’s great to work with. Such a lovely guy and he’s always been a bit of a joker. He has a really dry sense of humour. He was definitely the joker on set.”