EXCLUSIVE: The Graham Norton Show is often the most important stop on the promotional tour bus when Hollywood’s elite come to London, so it will good news for many that, as of this week, the Irish showman is returning to his natural home: under the lights of a studio set and in front of an audience.
Graham Norton last night recorded the first episode in Season 28 of his BBC One/BBC America talk show at the iconic Television Centre studios in London. The presenter said today that he has “never been more excited to head into a television studio” after a months-long absence because of a certain global pandemic.
He did stoically carry on from home during lockdown with a Zoom reimagining of his red sofa, but as executive producer Graham Stuart tells Deadline, it was no substitute for the alchemy of the studio and a live audience.
“The reason for the success of the show is the relationship between Graham and the guests, the relationship between the guests, and all of this in relation to the audience. Graham is such a brilliant and natural performer, he is a showman. He achieves this intimacy with the guests and the audience, and if we can get back to just a part of that, we will be closer to what an audience show should be,” he says.
There will be inevitable changes, however. A lean crew will get leaner and Norton’s usual audience of 640 will be radically slimmed down to 100. Strict safety protocols are in place, including social distancing and groups attending in family bubbles. The show will have a “blended” mix of guests, as Norton knits together stars in the studio with others dialing in from overseas. Tonight’s show, for example, features Rupert Everett in the studio and Dolly Parton on Zoom.
“We’ve always had an eclectic booking policy, but we have been fuelled by Hollywood. The Hollywood element is more difficult,” admits Stuart. “The main point is that nobody is opening movies, and why would they unless they’re Christopher Nolan. That means that the promotional circus is very much quieter and that affects us. We want to surprise. You’ll see a range of great people enjoying being together, ringmastered by Graham.”
Gone is Norton’s red sofa, however. Instead, guests will sit on individual chairs positioned at a healthy distance apart from one another. “The configuration of the set will look different because it has to. The sofa has gone for the moment. It will look different but will be recognizable,” Stuart says. In better news, the famous red chair, which Norton can flip at the push of a lever, will be back with its own set of safety rules. “There are quite elaborate protocols around that chair, but you will see the red chair. It will be as it always was, only better and cleaner”
Producer So Television is preparing for a 25-week run, and Stuart says the show is bracing for the worst and hoping for the best over the coming months. A second wave of coronavirus is washing through the UK and the government last week introduced stricter social restrictions, with more planned if the alarming uptick in new cases is not arrested. A second national lockdown is not off the table. Stuart hopes the show can remain in the studio throughout Season 28 — even if it is without a live studio audience.
“I’m sure we will be facing many challenges over the next 25 weeks. It is our belief that we will remain in the studio unless told otherwise. Like everybody else, nobody knows and we will wait and see what the government decides,” the executive producer says. “The industry has done an incredible job during lockdown. Sometimes people think broadcasting is just a thing that happens, but it’s taken a lot of effort, guile, and wit to make it happen.”