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Saturday Night Takeaway smashes ratings record after airing without audience

The show was first broadcast in 2002.

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Ant and Dec hosted Saturday Night Takeaway in an empty studio (Ian West/PA)

Ant and Dec hosted Saturday Night Takeaway in an empty studio (Ian West/PA)

Ant and Dec hosted Saturday Night Takeaway in an empty studio (Ian West/PA)

Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway has scored its highest viewer ratings, after airing without a live audience for the first time in 18 years.

The March 21 episode, which took place in an empty studio due to the Covid-19 outbreak, was watched by an average of 9.5 million viewers.

Figures show that the ITV programme, which first aired in 2002, had a 45% share of the audience.

The broadcaster said the show’s audience peak of 11.1 million was the highest on any channel since the fireworks on BBC One on New Year’s Eve 2019.

Saturday’s programme saw hosts Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly greeted by near silence as they arrived for the show, running down the aisle stairs and high-fiving the air above the empty seats.

Donnelly said it was “a little bit weird” but praised the “smaller than usual but still amazing crew” for ensuring the programme went ahead.

Comedian Joel Dommett, who was the evening’s guest announcer, was seen cleaning the microphone with an antibacterial wipe.

Singer Olly Murs ended the programme with an impassioned performance of his hit Dance With Me Tonight, accompanied by footage of people dancing along at home, including some NHS workers and elderly people.

Ant and Dec confirmed that future episodes would be pre-recorded.

Following Saturday Night Takeaway, talent show The Voice UK scored its highest audience of the series this year, with an average of 4.8 million viewers tuning in.

Programmes including ITV’s Loose Women and the Jeremy Vine show on Channel 5 have also gone ahead without live audiences, following Government guidance against mass gatherings.

PA