“I cannot stress it enough: this is a gig.”
Warm-up man Stuart Holdham is laying the ground rules for the studio audience at Sounds Like Friday Night, a brand new pop show on BBC One.
“Don’t clap along to the music because you should be dancing,” he continues.
“And if I see any dad dancing, you’ll be removed from the studio, driven to Manchester and forced to watch six hours of Jeremy Kyle.”
For all of his humour, there’s no mistaking it: this is a big deal for the BBC.
Since Top of the Pops and CD:UK died in 2006, there hasn’t been a dedicated pop programme on mainstream TV. It has become industry consensus that audiences don’t want to see live music in their living room.
That’s why, X Factor aside, pop bands have had to fight for slots at the end of The One Show or the end of Graham Norton. Always at the end. Always as the credits roll.
So Sounds Like Friday Night is something of a gamble. (A gamble which bizarrely, and perhaps unintentionally, borrows its title from a short-lived Leo Sayer show in 1978.)
“It’s a truly remarkable thing,” says host Greg James, a couple of days before the programme launches.
“The BBC have gone, ‘Do you know what? Let’s do a live music show and put it on BBC One!'”
He says he’s “obviously very nervous” at launching a new programme, but “I don’t feel it’s something I can’t do”.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s a half-hour show with some great music and some fun bits that people can hopefully sit down at the end of the week and enjoy.”
Ah yes, the “fun bits”. This is what stops #SLFN (as it’s known on social media) being a mere reboot of Top of the Pops.
The chart countdown has been consigned to the dustbin, and the show is peppered with sketches and interviews, which are instantly available to share on YouTube and social media.
“It’s a lot more than music performances,” says James’s co-host Dotty.
“We’re hoping we can create moments that live outside of the show.”
How did it do in the ratings?
Sounds Like Friday Night had an average audience of 2.2 million viewers for its first show – lower than average for that timeslot, but respectable for a new show.
It has been given a challenging slot, pitting it against ITV’s Coronation Street – which attracts an average audience of 6.8 million viewers.
A Question of Sport, which regularly takes the same slot on BBC One, averages three million viewers per episode.
Top of the Pops, which was also scheduled against Friday night’s episode of Coronation Street towards the end of its 42-year run, attracted an average of 2.4 million viewers to its last four episodes on BBC One.
However, the BBC has avoided setting a public target for Sounds Like Friday Night’s viewing figures.
Instead, it hopes the show will have a “second life” on social media, with clips and sketches being shared on YouTube and the BBC iPlayer for weeks after the initial broadcast.
The template is Adele’s successful “At The BBC” show, which mixed chat and performances with a sketch in which the star auditioned as an Adele impersonator. That clip has been watched more than 82 million times on YouTube.
Record labels will be watching sales and streaming figures on Saturday to see whether SLFN’s first guests – Jason Derulo, Charlie Puth and Jessie Ware – receive a similar boost from their appearance on the programme.
But whatever happens, music fans are eager for a new pop show. The studio audience for the first episode came not just from the UK but from Sweden, Germany, and even the US.
“I watched Top of the Pops growing up,” said Dan Law, who travelled from Devon to be first in the queue.
“It was a shame when it ended, but this seems like a class show. I think it’s a modern way of looking at music.”
“Everyone likes music,” said Brooke, originally from Rhode Island, “so it’s fun to add the comedy and things to it”.
“It’s a different kind of entertainment,” agreed Ozlem Halibryam and Khadijah Ahmed, two Charlie Puth fans who were “too young” to remember the original Top Of The Pops.
“I think it’s a nice way to chill on a Friday night,” added Ahmed.
“I think it would be good to have more shows like this, more often.”
Inside Television Centre’s Studio One, the audience were greeted by a vast, multi-storey coliseum that appeared to have been borrowed from a steampunk production of West Side Story.
The fans screamed when Derulo swivelled his hips and swooned when Jessie Ware sang her lush ballad Alone. But the sketches were more divisive.
A clip in which Foo Fighters star Dave Grohl impersonated a BBC One continuity announcer was met with befuddled silence.
Better received was a sketch featuring Jason Derulo’s attempts to play basketball while being pelted with tennis balls – but even that dragged on too long.
In the end, the audience just wanted music (this was a gig, after all) and enthusiastically joined in with Derulo’s acoustic rendition of Want To Want Me at the end of the show.
Reaction to the first show:
After the credits rolled, James turned his back to the camera and let out a huge sigh of relief as he hugged Jessie Ware.
“We’ll watch it back and I’m sure there’ll be loads of things we’ll change,” he said backstage, “but in the studio it felt great.”
Dotty was similarly relieved – despite realising 10 minutes into the show that she hadn’t taken the label off her brand new jeans.
“You can walk through these things and get your bearings in the studio, but there is nothing like when you’re live and there’s an audience there. So it was insane.”
“The thing I’m really proud of is it felt like it was a confident start,” added James.
“We did not want to apologise for doing a show like this. There’s no reason why these enormous artists shouldn’t have a home on TV.”
Future episodes will feature Liam Gallagher, Demi Lovato, Plan B, London Grammar Loyle Carner and Liam Payne (who tells the BBC he’ll “do a song on there that I’ve not done before”) .
But who would be the host’s ideal musical guest?
“Obviously Swifty, if we can get her out of that kebab shop,” laughs James, referring to Taylor Swift, who filmed a music video in a London cafe earlier this week.
“And Liam Gallagher will be incredible next week,” says Dotty.
“But nothing’s off limits.”
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