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Photograph: Kieron McCarron/Rex/Shutterstock Donnelly then teasingly mentioned that one of the public participants was in the studio because her planned appearance on a previous edition had been cancelled when “something happened.” Viewers were invited to assume Diane had been on the running order for the cancelled post-arrest show, but it turned out that a heart scare had made her unavailable. The quality of Diane’s cardiac care was then tested by reuniting her with the sister she hadn’t seen for 30 years. The only direct reference to the elephant in the studio came, unexpectedly, when Donnelly mentioned that the venue from which the show comes, London Studios, is about to close. Dec gave viewers a quick video tour of the empty Studio 2, where, he noted, “Ant, Cat [Deeley] and I presented SM: TV Live for so long.” Then, going into the production gallery to have a mock-row about the show’s closing segment, Donnelly complained: “I’ll have to do it myself, like everything else around here this week.” For obvious reasons, the regular segment Ant v Dec had been dropped, but it was not ideal that the long opening item featured people who “want to change something about their life.” It is perhaps a good thing that rehab patients are generally prevented from watching television. ITV had decided that McPartlin could be seen in a pre-filmed segment of the weekly Two Ronnies-style thriller mystery, after which Merchant joshed Dec that “the other guy was good. You should do more with him”. Ant McPartlin shows we can be kind, even to celebrities | Barbara Ellen Visually, by convention – and, some rumours insist, contract – Ant always stands screen-left and Dec on the right. So producers had to decide whether to frame Donnelly with a poignant gap beside him or shift him to the middle. For most of the 90 minutes, he clung to the centre line, like a tennis player with a long-reaching forehand and backhand. It was hard not to think that the lone presenter sometimes also looked lonely. Practically and psychologically, this was a big deal for Donnelly. In the 29 years since he and McPartlin were first paired as teenage actors on the BBC On1 children’s series Byker Grove, the only previous solo TV appearance by either of them seems to have been Donnelly’s brief appearance as “Stable boy” in The Cinder Path, a 1994 ITV adaptation of a Catherine Cookson novel. When Ernie Wise appeared without Eric Morecambe, there was a terrible tinge of widower about him. Things aren’t thankfully as final as that for Ant & Dec. Donnelly was typically – and, in the circumstances, courageously – professional and engaging. But ITV has built its schedules around one act to a degree unprecedented in TV history.
To get the original edition this includes any other pictures or online video, head over to https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/mar/31/ant-decs-saturday-night-takeaway-handles-missing-presenter-with-aplomb