'The Great British Sewing Bee' Returns to the BBC

Photo: Love Productions

After the disastrous experience over renewing The Great British Bake Off (known in America as The Great British Baking Show), the BBC seems to have patched things up with the Love Productions and renewed the spin-off series The Great British Sewing Bee.

Fans of The Great British Baking Show will be in for a little bit of a shock when the show returns to televisions in the States this summer if they haven't been paying close attention. Judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, plus hosts Sue & Mel are all getting younger. That's because instead of the new season of Bake Off, PBS will be airing a much older season, Season 3. Why is Baking Show going backward? Because during the long delay between the airing of the seasons in the UK and the airing of them here in the states, the show has changed stations.

After seven seasons on the BBC, four of which have aired here in the States thus far, and ratings through the roof, owner Love Productions demanded £25 million to stay at the BBC in fall of 2016, a sum the taxpayer-funded channel couldn't begin to afford. Thus The Great British Bake Off moved, bag and baggage, to Channel 4 in 2017. The fallout was ugly, with Berry, Sue & Mel, all of whom star in other BBC-produced shows, siding with the BBC and quitting the series. Meanwhile, the BBC was so upset it suspended any further work on their other Love Production series: Bake Off: Creme de La CremeThe Great British Sewing Bee, and The Great Pottery Throwdown.

But time heals all wounds, and the BBC and Love Productions have apparently managed to patch things up somewhat. At least they've patched things up enough to allow production of The Great British Sewing Bee to resume. At the end of last month, BBC Two announced the show would return for a fifth season in 2019. The series is so eager to return, they are even changing up their host because mainstay Claudia Winkleman (who is known for hosting such other BBC series such as Strictly Come Dancing) isn't available. The question is, is there hope that the BBC, now deprived of the new Bake Off series, might offer up The Great British Sewing Bee to PBS audiences? 

Photo: Love Productions

The Great British Sewing Bee is the most successful of the three spin-off series, and there were signs in 2016 the BBC was trying to spruce up Season 4 to follow in the footsteps of its baking cousin. Original judge May Martin was replaced by a stricter school marm type in Esme Young, who seemed a bit like Edna E Mode from The Incredibles come to life. The other judge, Patrick Grant, seemed like someone took Tim Gunn and David Tennant and put them on blend. The show moved house from the Metropolitan Wharf in London to a former tannery in Bermondsey, which is far more cinematic location. But then the collapse of the BBC-Love Productions relationship happened, and everything was put on hold.

If Baking Show is like someone took a Food Network competition and made it the nicest, most delightful version it could be, then Sewing Bee is like someone took Project Runway and did the same. The structure will be recognizable to any Baking Show fan. Contestants come in for two-day stints on weekend and then go home in between to practice for the challenge next week in their home studios. There are three challenges per episode, but unlike Bake Off, the contestants only practice for the last one (the “Made to Measure” challenge). The first two are both surprises, a la the Technical challenge. In the first, (The “Pattern Challenge”) they are handed a pattern packet and must pick appropriate fabrics from “the haberdashery” and follow instructions. In the second, (the “Alternation Challenge”) they are handed a surprise garment and told to alter it into something else.  The final “Made to Measure” is the only one where they have models to dress. There is no glamorous runway though, just the middle aisle between the sewing stations for the models to walk down.

Sewing Bee will be on its fifth season when the new series goes back on the air next year, which is the same point that Bake Off was brought over to PBS and rechristened Baking Show. (That's why the BBC still has older seasons to offer up for PBS consumption.) Will fans of the Baking Show be lucky enough for the BBC to try with their sewing variation once the show runs out of back season to ship over here? The two seasons of The Great Pottery Throwdown are charming as well, and could also maybe find their way across the pond, should the BBC decide to go back to it. 

Anyway, with no deal in sight for PBS and Channel 4 to bring over the new seasons of Bake Off, and BBC running out of old seasons to play over here as new, it might be the best notion for the project.