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Replacing the Eurovision Song Contest

Philip Stevens talks to Sieste Bakker, executive producer of the Eurovision Song Contest

One of the many casualties of the coronavirus outbreak is the Eurovision Song Contest. Due to have been staged in Rotterdam from the Ahoy Arena on 16th May, it became obvious during March that it was impossible for the show to go ahead. But there still remained the question of what to do about broadcasters’ schedules that needed to be filled for a lengthy period of time on a Saturday evening.

“When the prospect of cancellation was on the horizon, we had three thoughts,” says Sietse Bakker, executive producer for the Song Contest. “The first was the need to produce quality content to replace the actual contest. Secondly, we knew there would be a great sense of disappointment, not just on the part of broadcasters, but also the 41 artists who put their heart and soul into their song. Those three minutes on stage were possibly the most important three minutes of their career. Our third thought was more of an emotional one. Whether you love or loved to hate – as Terry Wogan used to say – the contest, it did create a sense of European togetherness – not politically, of course, but culturally. The contest was the only pan-European tradition that we have that has such a massive following.”

Bakker goes on to state that especially in these times it was felt important to recreate that closeness. “So, we started thinking very quickly after the cancellation about how we could create a moment without doing a competition.”

The result will be a two-hour spectacular called Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light, be hosted by Chantal Janzen, Edsilia Rombley and Jan Smit – the three presenters who would have been involved with the original programme. The director will be Marnix Kaart, one of two who were planning shots for the pre-cancellation show.

“The programme will come from a studio in Hilversum using six cameras. We are utilising a huge studio in order that everyone can keep their social distancing.”

Bakker says that the format will honour the 41 artists and show clips of their songs. It was decided that it would not be appropriate to play the whole performance of the songs – which anyway are available online from various sources. “So, alongside clips, we are getting each artist to send in a personal video message from their home to the viewers.”

Sietse Bakker

Bakker also reveals that there will be new performances from previous Eurovision winners – either in their own homes or in a special place in their home city. “We felt it would be good to have conversations with these people to ask how they doing and how their country is doing as they face the challenges of these times.”

There will be segments where messages from social media platforms will be read out.

He goes on, “But, and this will be special, we are asking all the performers to join in and sing Love Shine a Light – the 1997 Eurovision winner. Of course, that also inspired the name of the replacement show. There will be other ingredients to the programme which I am not prepared to disclose at this time – but this will be a very special one-off.”

The 2020 Song Contest was to be the last for executive supervisor, Jon Ola Sand (more from him later in the week). As Bakker explains, Sand is still involved with the new programme by helping to co-ordinate the 46 broadcasters who will air the show. “But it is sad that he cannot go out with a ‘bang’ having been such a force for so many years.”

Obviously, thoughts are already turning to 2021. “We are currently working on a line-up of all the stakeholders who are key to the success of the Eurovision Song Contest. Moving the Contest is not as easy as moving a football match. It involves strong commitment from the host city, the Venue – and there needs to be the hotel capacity in place. And beyond that, we are thinking about how the world will look like in 2021. We all hope that we will be able to have a song contest as we had it in mind for this year but that we will have to wait and see.”

One final thought from Bakker about this year’s replacement. “It has been just a few weeks since the cancellation. And we are putting together a major show with many participants from all over Europe and beyond. And all in record time. I think it is rather like building a plane after it has started flying.”