'Great British Bake Off' Returns to U.K. TV Following Controversial Broadcaster Switch

Credit: Channel 4/PA
Bake Off's new lineup: Noel Fielding, Sandi Toksvig, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith

A year after 'Bakexit,' Channel 4 relaunches the BBC's once ratings-smashing cookery competition.

The Great British Bake Off (screened on PBS as The Great British Baking Show) returns to U.K. TV screens Tuesday night, almost a year after it switched broadcasters in arguably 2016’s biggest talking point (in U.K. papers, at least) after Donald Trump and Brexit.

The three-year, £75 million ($93 million) deal with producers Love Productions – dubbed ‘Bakexit’ – saw the much-loved reality cooking competition move from the BBC after seven hugely successful seasons (which peaked at a record 15.05 million consolidated viewers for the season 5 finale) to rival network Channel 4.

In the immediate aftermath, Bake Off’s presenters, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins – a long-lasting TV double act commonly known as Mel & Sue – along with judge Mary Berry quit the show out of loyalty to the BBC, with only Berry’s fellow judge Paul Hollywood signing up for more.

Amid huge speculation, Channel 4 soon wheeled out the replacements. Comic Sandi Toksvig and The Mighty Boosh star Noel Fielding would co-host, while TV chef and cookbook author Prue Leith would judge.

And now, following a press screening of the first episode at Channel 4 HQ last week, the new-look show is finally ready for digestion.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing.

Not content to give up the kitchen crown so easily, the BBC is prepping another show with Mary Berry called Britain's Best Cook, due for 2018, and has already launched team cooking competition The Big Family Cooking Showdown on BBC 2, hosted by Bake Off season 6 winner Nadiya Hussain and given a more shabby-chic barn feel over Bake Off’s big country tent.

The show debuted on Tuesday, Aug. 15, and soon afterwards Channel 4 announced that its revamped Bake Off would also air on a Tuesday (previous seasons had aired on Wednesdays).

Despite not being averse to its own bit of competitive scheduling, the BBC labeled the decision a “cynical move” and moved The Big Family Cooking Showdown to Thursdays “in the best interest of viewers.”

“There is room for both and we don’t, in this instance, see any public value in two public service broadcasters going head-to-head in this way,” it added.

Channel 4 denied that the Tuesday slot was deliberate, saying the decision had been made a “few months” after acquiring the show, pointing to the first few seasons of Bake Off being on that day.

There will be be a number of eager eyes on Bake Off’s ratings come Wednesday morning. With Channel 4 having a far smaller reach than the BBC, few expect the show to come close to its previous record-busting figures, or even double figures. But there’s a lot riding on its success.

Unlike the BBC, Channel 4 is funded via commercials, and it has signed Bake Off sponsorship deals worth $5.2 million, also extending the show to 75 minutes to fit in more than 15 minutes of breaks. 

Outgoing creative chief Jay Hunt told the Edinburgh TV Festival – where Bake Off was being given a major push last week – that the show “breaks even at around three million, so anything north of that would be fantastic,” adding that “if it gets fix, six, seven [million], I would be absolutely delighted.”

As for the critical reception to the first episode, Channel 4’s re-jigged The Great British Bake Off received almost unanimous applause for largely sticking to an already winning formula.

As The Guardian’s critic put it: “On the evidence of the first episode, Channel 4 and Love Productions have achieved the most difficult of all bakery-related metaphors – having their cake and eating it.”