Saturday Night Takeaway scores biggest ITV overnight audience for 2024

The 20th series launch of Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway has secured the biggest overnight audience of the year for ITV so far, the broadcaster has said.

Saturday’s jam-packed episode, which saw the Geordie duo prank music mogul Simon Cowell, was watched by an average audience of 4.9 million, with 5.6 million tuning in at its peak.

McPartlin and Donnelly are set to take a break from the show at the conclusion of the series as they said they felt the 20th “milestone” was the “perfect time to pause for a little while and catch our breath”.

The series launch show saw the pair prank their Britain’s Got Talent co-star Cowell for a second time – more than 20 years after their first.

He was their first prank victim in 2003 when they pretended to be a funny audition on US singing competition American Idol, where Cowell was a judge.

To mark the start of the new series, the pair returned to the US to prank Cowell on a bicycle ride and during filming for America’s Got Talent (AGT).

The first prank saw Cowell interrupted on his morning cycle by a fake police officer, whom McPartlin and Donnelly fed instructions to through an earpiece while they sat in a van nearby.

The officer accused him of breaking a series of made-up misdemeanours including that his bicycle did not comply with Malibu colour regulations – which they claimed were seafoam blue, seafoam green or seafoam white – and that he needed to carry his bicycle licence with him.

The second stage saw the music producer pranked on AGT in front of a live audience when a fake illusion act got him to get into a metal box which they locked with chains.

The fake masked performer then pretended to swallow the keys and Cowell was told that they had got stuck in his throat, which left the judge unimpressed.

The AGT stage crew members then pretended to attempt to cut him free with a chainsaw, frustrating him further by asking if he consented every time they went to take his safety glasses on or off throughout the process.

Just before they were going to try using explosives, McPartlin and Donnelly took to the stage in disguise as the masked performers.

They said: “This illusion did not go to plan for this TV show but it did go to plan for our TV show in the UK”. They then revealed they were behind the prank, causing Cowell to say: “I am going to kill you.”

McPartlin told him: “This is payback for 20 years of keep us waiting Simon Cowell.”

Elsewhere in the show, McPartlin and Donnelly went head-to-head in a challenge which saw them climb up a scaffolding structure which was suspended in the air, which McPartlin ultimately won.

Comedian and actor Stephen Merchant joined the show as the guest announcer for the week, while presenter Stephen Mulhern made a dramatic return to the programme dressed as the character Dr Evil from the Austin Powers film series.

Becky Hill closed out the show by singing a medley of her hit songs including Disconnect and Remember while dance collective Urban Theory performed around her accompanied by McPartlin, Donnelly and Mulhern.

Later in the series there will be a segment called Get Out Of Me Ear: The Revenge where celebrities who have been hidden-camera-victims of Ant and Dec over the years get their revenge by turning the tables.

After the variety show takes a break, McPartlin and Donnelly will continue their exclusive working relationship with ITV, as hosts of popular shows including I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!, Britain’s Got Talent and Limitless Win.

Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway returns on Saturday at 7pm on ITV1 & ITVX.