TV broadcasters expect the unexpected on sombre election night

The BBC has David Dimbleby back in his familiar seat, while ITV have secured Osborne and Balls. But recent terror attacks mean broadcasters will roll back the razzle-dazzle for the ‘most unpredictable election ever’

Heightened security and a sombre tone will characterise election night broadcasting, with the recent terrorist incidents and cyber-attacks against the NHS forcing a change of approach.

Amid increased concern over the BBC’s vulnerability to hacking, cybersecurity has been strengthened around the corporation’s general election programming, while measures such as sniffer dogs have also been brought in across the corporation.

Other broadcasters, including Sky and ITV, have also raised or reviewed their security following the attacks in Manchester and London.

The atrocities have also had an impact on the tone of the results shows, which ITV anchor Tom Bradby says will “hopefully chime with the sober nature of these times”.

“There will be no parties, gizmos or gimmicks and even our graphics are being drawn up and presented by academics,” he told the Guardian.

Emily Maitlis, who will co-present the BBC’s results coverage through the night with David Dimbleby, says this election feels different to previous ones.

“It feels, without getting too schmaltzy, that this is a time when the country’s really asking itself about that sense of national unity. I’m saying this off the back of the Manchester One Love concert: you suddenly get a sense of what it is to go through things as a country.

Sophy Ridge and Adam Boulton will present Sky News’ election night show Vote 2017.
Sophy Ridge and Adam Boulton will present Sky News’ election night show Vote 2017. Photograph: Andrea Southam/Sky News

“It’s a moment where you think ‘we’re all going through this, we’re all doing this’. it feels like our job to say, we are pushing on with this massive thing when people are feeling shaken.”

The BBC’s election night editor, Sam Woodhouse, said staff felt an even greater sense of responsibility “given the events of the last month and the campaign which have shaken everybody”.

“It doesn’t feel like a normal election, having done quite a lot of them,” said Woodhouse, who oversaw the BBC’s 2015 programme and EU referendum poll. “Any outcome is seismic and has a huge consequence.”

Even Channel 4, which is airing its usual Alternative Election Night, says “the potential impact of recent events on the election will be reflected in the coverage”.

Although the show, featuring Jeremy Paxman, Richard Osman and David Mitchell giving their unique take on the results, will not change dramatically, one source said the producers will be mindful of the “appropriate tone”.

After Theresa May called the snap election, broadcasters had just a few weeks to pull together their results programmes – and on lower or frozen budgets than in 2015. Holidays and weddings were postponed – although Antiques Roadshow’s filming schedule had to take precedence for Fiona Bruce who will be missing from the BBC this time. Resources have been strained even further in covering the terror attacks.

ITV’s election night host Tom Bradby, centre, flanked by political pundits George Osborne and Ed Balls.
ITV’s election night host Tom Bradby, centre, flanked by political pundits George Osborne and Ed Balls. Photograph: ITV

Bradby says that at ITV, which has fewer staff than the BBC or Sky, it “has not been easy, but we have the same team working on it as 2015, so that has been massively helpful and I am not sure we would do anything differently”.

“We’re going all out to try and produce the most intelligent, thoughtful, incisive programme,” explains Bradby, pointing to Robert Peston, Allegra Stratton, and election night analysts George Osborne and Ed Balls.

Sophy Ridge, who is co-presenting the Sky News results programme Vote 2017 with Adam Boulton, said it had been “a scramble” to pull it together, and that “this election is more unpredictable than ever before”.

“It’s quite hard to know in advance which seats we’re going to be chewing over the next day. It’s not really clear where the story’s going to go. But the results are what people want [and] that’s reflected in why we’re at more than counts than ever before.

The BBC’s Woodhouse said it was “touch and go”: “We weren’t sure we were going to be able to get people or get an exit poll in time … I really wasn’t sure. It has happened much faster than ever before”.

The BBC has made savings and recycled the coliseum-style set it used in the previous two general elections.

Also returning is Dimbleby, who many thought would retire after the 2015 election. Woodhouse says Dimbleby’s return was a decision “taken way above my pay grade” but he is “fighting fit, desperate to do another one. The nation will turn to David Dimbleby again”.

Although Jeremy Vine will have a new robot camera in his virtual Downing Street set, Woodhouse says time pressures prevented further innovation – and “in the end people want to know the results”.

“The only certainty we have this time is that we are all certain we don’t know this time.”

Maitlis has been rehearsing all the different possible scenarios. “From 2015 to Brexit to America, I sort of feel there’s nothing that the electorate can throw at us now that we’re not open to and haven’t considered.

“In a way it’s easier because we not going in with any preconceptions. It’s quite liberating in a way.”


Tara Conlan

The GuardianTramp

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