It’s hard to accurately convey how well-loved The Great British Bake Off is in the U.K., just as it’s difficult to explain the appeal of the somewhat eccentric televised baking contest—in which a contestant once fashioned a cake re-creation of his near-death experience—to someone who’s never seen it. When news broke last year that the series had been purchased by a rival network, after airing on the BBC for all of its seven seasons, a fit of something akin to national hysteria broke out. The show’s two hosts, Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, quit in high dudgeon, as did one of the judges, Mary Berry. (The sole remaining star, Paul Hollywood, chose to stay with the show and has been lambasted with snake emojis on social media ever since.)
Suffice to say, when the eighth season debuted on Channel 4 on Tuesday night, and one of the new judges, Sandi Toksvig, jokily referred to Perkins in a fake phone call while “floating” above the set in a hot-air balloon, you half expected the country to furiously spit, “How dare you stand where she stood,” like Harry Potter confronting Snape in the Battle of Hogwarts. But the moment passed, the show got back to business, and soon it was clear that this was no Great Stylistic Shake-up, just the same old beloved format with a few fresh faces, and an extra 15 minutes of advertisements sandwiched in between rounds. Stays could be loosened. Teeth could be unground. A crisis was averted.
#gbbo I liked it. Ads didn’t bother us that much. Out with the old in with the new 👍🏼— Elisa (@Disastrophee) August 29, 2017
After almost a year of catfighting, snubs, and calls to boycott a cultural product so insanely popular that half of the nation’s televisions watched the Season 7 premiere, it was a relatively smooth transition. It’s hard not to imagine Channel 4 executives breathing a colossal sigh of relief, given that the Bake Off poaching was such a PR disaster for the network that its chief creative officer was drafted to repair the damage to its brand. There were concerns that the broadcaster, known for its quirky indie aesthetic, might hipsterize a show that was defiantly un-hip at best, filmed in a tent so big that grannies, Millennials, bankers, and hijab-wearing Muslims could bake cosily side by side. When the first trailer for the new season, a stop-motion animation featuring anthropomorphized baked goods vomiting jam into tarts and puffing up suggestively, was released, some feared the worst.