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Editor Daniel R James on Sculpting the Comedy of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway

There are a handful of comedy sketch shows that are so iconic that multiple generations of a culture immediately identify with them. In America, it’s unquestionably NBC’s Saturday Night Live. While the UK’s Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway (SNT) shares the template of a cold opening sketch featuring the current week’s host, that’s where the similarity ends. Of course, one might say that the beloved status of both is a common thread but Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway is most certainly filtered through the UK’s humor and cultural tone. Editor Daniel R James has been a vital part of achieving that tone for this production which has received a plethora of nominations and awards including multiple BAFTA wins for Best Entertainment Program and Most Popular Entertainment Program. Nearly two decades on ITV has confirmed the importance of both the content and the way it is presented.

Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway is comprised of segments which include quizzes (Read My Lips, Singalong Live, Win the Ads) pranks (Ant & Dec Undercover, I'm a Celebrity... Get Out of Me Ear!) to treasure hunts (Best Seats In The House/Sofa Watch), and musical performances (End of the Show Show). The show was overwhelmingly endearing because it featured real people and professional talent, often interacting. The potential of “what might happen?” was always high and the demands of that on an editor are immense. Daniel’s work on a number of BAFTA and National Television Award (UK) winning programs (The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, and others) has earned him the respect of directors and producers and the accompanying latitude in his work style.

There are times when the eyes of this editor alter the footage to the great benefit of all. The “Dermot O’Leary’s Get Out Of Me Ear” (part of “I'm a Celebrity... Get Out of Me Ear!” featuring beloved X Factor and BBC radio 2 presenter Dermot O'Leary) was presented to Daniel for a five-minute-long segment but he quickly recognized the vast potential and nearly doubled the length of it. In spite of hesitation from TV execs, the final format which was sourced out of eighteen separate cameras was cut for pacing and music cues that resulted in one of the most popular moments for SNT. The inverse approach was used in Mr. James work on the regular feature “Photobooth”, whittling down numerous hours for a delightful and hilarious three-and-a-half-minute segment.

A more artful approach was required for the editing of the “Saturday Knight Takeaway Drama Sketch”, a tongue in cheek pastiche to established movie franchises with the much loved presenters of the show playing key roles in a ridiculous ‘who dunnit?’ plotline, interacting with other big name celebrities and culminating the reveal of a nefarious character. This required the type of editing which straddled the line between classic cinema and TV comedy. This previously edited sketch series was deemed unusable by executives until Daniel was enlisted to resurrect it and deliver an extraordinary final cut. Shedding professional insight, he communicates, “Taking on the drama sketch series, that previously from the hands of a different editor was deemed unusable, and the executives were planning to axe the whole segment is a great example of the unique perspectives we editors can have. I was given the same footage to work with and was able to present an edit that felt completely different. It went from being the least liked item by the executives and the talent, to their favorite. It was very gratifying for me that the executives wanted to include me in the following drama production that they created.”

Daniel R James and the other professionals behind the scenes are an essential part of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. The show reached a milestone in March of 2018 with its 100th episode. The show has continually proven that levity takes great skill and care, to endure for so long also vets that both elements are found in the artists who bring SNT to life.

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