If you grew up in the UK during the 1990s, then you almost certainly watched Live & Kicking. The Saturday morning kids’ show, which ran throughout most of the decade, was hugely popular, becoming a ratings winner for the BBC!
Yet as the show headed into the ‘00s, things changed and Live & Kicking went from the sweet smelling success of being the No.1 Saturday morning kids’ show, to a slightly stinky No.2. In no time at all the show then disappeared from TV screens, never to return.
If you followed Live & Kicking from start to finish, you’ll be aware of its success and demise. But if you only tuned in from time-to-time (and you often switched over to rival show, SM:tv Live) you’re probably wondering what became of Live & Kicking?
Fear not, for I have the answers.
The rise and rise of Live & Kicking
Before discussing the demise of Live & Kicking, let’s do a recap on what the show was all about and why it was so popular. And it really was very, very popular.
So, for those who don’t recall, Live & Kicking made its debut on the 2nd October 1993. The show was broadcast live, every Saturday morning on BBC One, and was regarded as a flagship series for the channel.
Running from 9am until 12:15pm, Live & Kicking offered a mix of entertainment, from showbiz guests, music videos, and cartoons, to comedy sketches, phone-ins, competitions, and more. In essence, Live & Kicking was a magazine show aimed at kids – from youngsters who would wake up at the crack of dawn, to teens who would catch half of the show from the comfort of their beds.
When Live & Kicking first started, it was fronted by three presenters: Andi Peters, Emma Forbes and John Barrowman. The trio were accompanied by a computer generated cat, called Ratz, and popular comedy duo, Trevor & Simon (aka Trevor Neal and Simon Hickson).
The first series of Live & Kicking did OK and developed a fanbase, but by the time the show returned for its second series, a few tweaks took place to improve the formula. Ratz was dropped from the show (a wise move), and John Barrowman took a backseat, to focus on the entertainment news section of the programme, known as Electric Circus.
The second season was where Live & Kicking really started to find its feet. Andi Peters and Emma Forbes worked perfectly as a presenting duo, and new additions to the show – including hit cartoon series, X-Men – helped draw in new viewers.
The second series also saw the introduction of two popular puppet characters, known initially as the Leprechauns. Later rechristened as Sage and Onion, these two puppets would prove popular with the audience.
A third series followed in late 1995 and the show’s popularity increased, becoming the No. 1 Saturday morning programme. As it continued to draw in viewers, even more fun was added to the presenting line-up in the shape of ‘voice over’ presenter, Mitch Johnson (who was heard, but never seen).
Although the show was on a high, after three increasingly popular years, Andi Peters decided to leave Live & Kicking at the end of the third series. Initially, only Peters was due to leave, with Emma Forbes to remain with the show for a fourth year; but all that changed when Forbes fell pregnant during Summer 1996 and she too bowed out.
With the two main presenters of Live & Kicking no longer involved in the series, the show could have easily fallen apart – yet it didn’t. After a slightly bumpy beginning, Live & Kicking’s fourth series maintained the show’s popularity, which was now under the watchful eye of presenters, Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston.
The two presenters were a huge hit with audiences and not only did Live & Kicking keep its fanbase, the viewing figures began to increase. In fact, Live & Kicking became so popular that in 1998, a 30-minute spin-off series called L&K Friday aired at 4:30pm on a Friday, as a sort-of taster/prelude to the main Saturday show.
Put simply: During Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston’s tenure (Series Four to Six), Live & Kicking hit its zenith – it could do no wrong. And then, slowly, but surely, the wheels fell off and the show began to fall apart.
The beginning of the end for Live & Kicking
Across the course of the Ball/Theakston years, Live & Kicking largely stayed the same. Oh, there were a few changes here and there, with Trevor & Simon leaving after Series Four, and being replaced by three comedians (Ben Ward, Gez Foster, and Richie Webb); but the general consensus was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
For six years, Live & Kicking had gone from strength to strength. The presenters had been excellent, the content of the show had been strong, and it had also provided a platform to some really popular US shows, including Rugrats, the aforementioned X-Men, Spider-Man, and Kenan & Kel.
Live & Kicking was floating on Cloud Nine…
…and then Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston announced they were quitting the show to focus on their other work commitments.
The departure of Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston was a big deal for Live & Kicking! Such was the popularity of the Ball/Theakston combo, that the pair’s departure made newspaper headlines, and many worried that this was the end for the show.
But Live & Kicking had survived one major presenting shake-up (as well as a much smaller one), so Ball & Theakston’s departure wouldn’t be too much of a problem, right?
In spring 1999, Ball and Theakston left Live & Kicking, waving a tearful goodbye to viewers. Those same viewers shed tears as they watched their favourite presenters depart their screens…
…then they switched over to ITV and started watching SM:tv Live.
Across the course of summer 1999, viewers moved their attention to SM:tv Live and they liked what they saw. And this was a problem for the BBC, because when Live & Kicking started back up for its seventh series in autumn 1999, many viewers were now reluctant to return.
A new presenting line-up was introduced in Steve Wilson and Emma Ledden, and they were joined by comedy double-act, SuperGirly. Wilson and Ledden did an admirable job of pushing ahead with the show, but ratings continued to slide and by the end of the series in spring 2000, the show was in a precarious place.
Rather than continue with the Wilson/Ledden combo, the decision was made to revamp the show completely, to bring it in-line with the year 2000, as well as the competition on ITV. The show’s opening titles were revamped, the presenting line-up was changed and expanded (more on that in a moment) and for the first time in the show’s history, the presenters were asked to not only front the show, but also provide the comedy too.
In my humble opinion, as someone who adored Live & Kicking, these changes were a monumental misstep. The series didn’t need a revamp, it simply needed a little TLC.
Steve Wilson and Emma Ledden were good presenters; they simply needed more time to bed in. By the end of their series they had developed a good, likeable chemistry and they should have been given the chance to continue this for another year.
For me, the BBC was very shortsighted when it came to the Wilson/Ledden era. Instead of temporarily accepting a reduction in the ratings, the Beeb wanted Live & Kicking back in the No.1 slot and that’s all that mattered.
Had Wilson and Ledden returned for an eighth series, I firmly believe the show would have remained on the air longer. Sure, it might not have regained the viewers it lost to SM:tv Live, but I feel it would have maintained a consistent viewership regardless.
But it wasn’t just ditching the presenters that was the problem; the production team needlessly rejigged Live & Kicking‘s iconic opening titles and tried to force comedy out of a presenting team who weren’t comedians!
At first it was bad, and then it got worse.
Why was Live & Kicking cancelled?
In autumn 2000, Live & Kicking returned to TV screens for its eighth (and final) series. The show now boasted four presenters: Katy Hill, Ortis Deley, Sarah Cawood, and Trey Farley.
Individually, the presenters were fine and were more than capable of hosting the show, but collectively it didn’t work. The show felt a little ‘off’ and it didn’t help that it no longer contained many of the elements that long-time viewers had come to enjoy.
The Leprechauns were gone, as was Mitch Johnson, and even the in-show programming seemed subpar (especially for a BBC show). Whereas Live & Kicking once boasted fantastic cartoons such as Spider-Man, it now had… er… Monster Rancher, a poor-man’s Pokémon.
If ever viewers needed proof that the BBC had lost the plot and was just chasing ratings, it was there in Monster Rancher! SM:tv Live had the hugely popular Pokémon cartoon, and the Beeb wanting something similar, figured Monster Rancher would be the next best thing. It wasn’t.
The same could be said for Big Wolf on Campus – a dire live-action, series which was painful to watch. Big Wolf’s inclusion seemed like an obvious attempt to match the success of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which aired on SM:tv Live, and it too failed to impress.
It also had become clear that Live & Kicking as a whole was skewing for a slightly younger demographic. Everything felt a little more juvenile than before, and a little less appealing to adolescent viewers… despite the inclusion of Dreadful Wolf on Campus (or whatever you want to call it).
As the show moved from week-to-week, it continued to lose its audience. The once mighty (and awesome) Live & Kicking was haemorrhaging viewers and they were simply not coming back.
In spring 2001, as Live & Kicking moved towards the end of its eighth series, a decision was made to pull the plug. The BBC decided it was time to rest the show and refocus its efforts on something new for Saturday mornings.
In a rather surprising move, it was announced that rather than end the series in the spring as was tradition, Live & Kicking would remain on air until a new show could take over in the autumn. This meant that a.) Live & Kicking would run across the summer for the first time ever, and b.) the show would relocate to a new studio in Scotland for those summer months.
With Live & Kicking entering its dying days, the show moved from the South to the North for the back-half of its final season. During the relocation, Katy Hill opted to bow out (a wise move), and one final presenter was added to the line-up in the shape of Heather Suttie.
The final run of episodes (let’s call them Series Eight B), were not great. The quality continued to decline, and Live & Kicking no longer felt like Live & Kicking – it was just a generic show and nothing more.
On September 15th 2001, after 267 episodes, various cast changes, countless guests, and a relocation, Live & Kicking ended. For the BBC, the series had lost a battle in the ratings, but for viewers it was evident the show had really lost the battle with itself.
Had Live & Kicking simply tried to co-exist with SM:tv Live, and accept a dip in its ratings, it might have lived on for many years to come. But the need to be No.1 and try to outdo the competition was Live & Kicking’s ultimate downfall.
Missed it? Missed out.
The cancellation of Live & Kicking was a huge loss to the BBC’s Saturday morning line-up. The channel continued to push ahead with the likes of The Saturday Show and the cult favourite, Dick & Dom in da Bungalow, but none of these shows were as popular as Live & Kicking.
Sure, by the end Live & Kicking was a shadow of its former self, but during the glory years it was something truly special. It was a show that provided hours of entertainment and made Saturday mornings a fun morning to wake up to.
Who were the presenters of Live & Kicking?
I hope this post has answered your questions about Live & Kicking. To round things off, here is a little recap of the main Live & Kicking presenters across the course of all eight series.
- Andi Peters – Series One to Three
- Emma Forbes – Series One to Three
- John Barrowman – Series One and Two
- Trevor Neal & Simon Hickson – Series One to Four
- Mitch Johnson – Series Three to Series Seven
- Zoe Ball – Series Four to Six
- Jamie Theakston – Series Four to Six
- Ben Ward, Gez Foster & Richie Webb – Series Five & Six
- Steve Wilson – Series Seven
- Emma Ledden – Series Seven
- Lulu McClatchy & Jai Simeone (aka SuperGirly) – Series Seven
- Katy Hill – Series Eight (A)
- Ortis Deley – Series Eight
- Sarah Cawood – Series Eight
- Trey Farley – Series Eight
- Heather Suttie – Series Eight (B)
In addition to the above presenters/comedy acts, Don Austen, John Eccleston, and Rebecca Nagan regular appeared at various points in the show’s run as the Leprechauns, Sage, Onion, and Shamrock, respectively. Barry Killerby cropped up as Mr. Blobby and Peter Simon had a stint on Run the Risk – an in-show, gunge-filled gameshow.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post about Live & Kicking. For more posts, and trips down memory lane, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.
- I revisited What’s Up Doc? after 27 years – it was a bumpy ride
- Whatever happened to the BBC’s ‘Film‘ show?
- X-Men: The Animated Series: Revisited