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The Bill: ITV drops police drama after 27 years

Long-running show The Bill to be axed by ITV in autumn after revamp and switch to new 9pm slot fail to revive ratings

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The Bill, one of the UK's longest-running TV dramas, is to be dropped by ITV in the autumn after 27 years, MediaGuardian.co.uk can reveal.

ITV has taken the decision to axe the police drama after last year's revamp and switch to a new 9pm slot failed to halt a long-term ratings decline.

The Bill was moved last year from being aired twice a week at 8pm on ITV1 to a single slot on Thursdays at 9pm. The show's storylines were tweaked to take account of the new post-watershed slot.

However, ratings for the show have failed to pick up. In 2002 the show averaged more that 7 million viewers, while more recently audiences been about 3.5 million.

ITV's decision puts jobs at risk in The Bill's 90-strong production team, which is based in Merton, south London. Talkback Thames, the independent producer which makes the show, said that it would now enter a consultation process with staff that work on The Bill and was expecting a "significant number of redundancies".

The broadcaster said that the decision to drop the series was made as part of a creative rethink of its drama schedule, which has seen the development of popular short run shows such as Collision and Above Suspicion, and not on cost-cutting grounds.

ITV intends to use the multimillion-pound saving from axing The Bill to create shorter run drama series for the 9pm slot with projects in the works including a new medical series with writer Peter Bowker and a new series from Collision and Foyle's War writer Anthony Horowitz.

"The Bill has been a fixture on our screens for more than 25 years and has been the home of some of the UK's best serial drama storylines, and a great showcase for terrific scriptwriting and fine acting talent," said Peter Fincham, the ITV director of television, channels and online.

"But times change, and so do the tastes of our audience. Whilst The Bill will come to an end in 2010, we will continue to invest more in drama programming than any other commercial broadcaster in the UK and viewers can look forward to a wide range of high quality drama on ITV1."

In the current economic climate the chances of The Bill being picked up by another broadcaster seems slim, with one source describing the costly show as "a victim of circumstance". After a quarter of a century on ITV, a rival broadcaster would also find it difficult to "own" the show.

"We are devastated that after 26 successful years on ITV, The Bill will be coming to an end," said Lorraine Heggessey, chief executive of Talkback Thames. "Regrettably, we anticipate that this may result in a significant number of redundancies. We are entering into a period of consultation with employees at The Bill where this will be discussed further.

"We are incredibly proud of what the show has achieved. It is a credit to everyone who has worked on The Bill that the series will be signing out on a creative and editorial high with both critical and industry-wide acclaim and a loyal fan base who have supported the show throughout."

The Bill grew out of a single drama called Woodentop, broadcast on ITV in 1983, which followed a day in the life of young PC Jim Carver, played by Mark Wingett, who stayed with the show until 2005, with his character rising to become a detective sergeant.

Named after writer Geoff McQueen's first idea of a title "Old Bill", The Bill first aired in 1984 and went on to become one of British TV's longest-running dramas.

The show is based around the fictional Sun Hill police station in east London, with filming taking place at various locations across the capital's southern suburbs, as well as on the main set in Merton.

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  • RememberThe66 RememberThe66

    26 Mar 2010, 10:32AM

    I loved watching The Bill in the 90's as a Primary school student. Back then it was half an hour episodes straight after Eastenders if I'm not mistaken?

    One bit will always stick in my mind. It was right at the end of an episode when I think it was Reggie and Tony who had to streak for some reason and viewers got to see their bums...not a pretty sight at all!

  • mitchnorman mitchnorman

    26 Mar 2010, 10:35AM

    One of the finest places to work in the whole industry. We are all gutted. Shame on you ITV for turning your back on this great institution. Ironically 4.5m viewers last night, What a waste.

  • Gitfinger Gitfinger

    26 Mar 2010, 10:37AM

    They destroyed The Bill themselves - they turn a credible, gritty police drama and turned it into an abysmal soap opera. I think they revamped the show at or around 2002, killing off many established characters and turning it in a soap. Its real low-point was Todd Carty as Sun Hill's own serial killer. The show became a joke.

  • HummDrumm HummDrumm

    26 Mar 2010, 10:42AM

    It may (have) been a great place to work, but its lasted a lot longer than Z Cars or Softly Softly, and they where far better programmes.

    I think if went downhill after DC Martella got killed. It was good as half hour episodes, but has suffered from too much exposure. If they wanted to revive it I would suggest either

    a) Far less of it (eg 13 episode seasons each year)

    or

    b) Treat it like Casualty, and put it on Saturday prime time. Its a damn site better than Peers Moron talking crap.

  • bigplanetlittlemoon bigplanetlittlemoon

    26 Mar 2010, 10:43AM

    I worked on the show in the 90's and the last one I did had an audience of of over 14 milllion - which highlights both the decline in ITV and in the show itself.

    I do feel for the guys working on it though - because it is all consuming, freelancers tend to get stuck in a rut. NOt around to take other bookings, so clients stop calling and the staff have very little option but to keep on the show.

  • fishyphil fishyphil

    26 Mar 2010, 10:44AM

    It was utterly predictable that the show would be given the axe when the revamp flopped. But whoever decided that a show that was pootling along nicely should be revamped that deserves the axe.

    What's the betting we now get a 9pm Emmerdale episode in its place?

  • HummDrumm HummDrumm

    26 Mar 2010, 10:53AM

    The show, which is made by independent production company TalkbackThames, is likely to prove to spark significant interest from rival broadcasters

    Despite the illegibility of this sentance, I assume you mean that it might be picked up by a rival broadcaster. Do you honestly think Sky would be interested? As I can't really see it going to BBC or Channel 4. Dave might but some repeats, but who else would want it? Living?

  • MediaMouse MediaMouse

    26 Mar 2010, 11:00AM

    I originally stopped watching when The Bill when it became a soap opera, but resumed watching when it started its current (and probably last) post-watershed incarnation. The Bill is currently a distinct improvement over the soap years, but the scripts have been variable and many episodes have been watched with the prodigious use of the fast forward button. (And I'm not talking about the ad breaks here!)

    Now I'm occasionally missing whole episodes and don't feel that I'm missing anything special, which is a real shame. The biggest flaws with The Bill in its current incarnation probably relate to "cookie-cutter" storylines where you can easily guess the outcome even if you don't know exactly who's guilty; a plot which is (usually) too thin for the allocated time (despite the numerous ad breaks), plus a general lack of empathy with the characters that seems to be a byproduct of the current scripts.

    There's also the distinct whiff of budget cut as well, which wasn't helping things one bit.

  • whatthedeuce whatthedeuce

    26 Mar 2010, 11:00AM

    That is a shame. It was miles better than the shite that is Holby Shitty, sorry City. But putting @ 9pm was always going to go wrong. When The Bill was good, it was very good but it seemed as if ITV had no idea how to treat it- I mean it just won a BAFTA & the numbskull execs decided to revamp it!

    I hope this doesn't mean some shite reality show is going to take its place, but I fear it's inevitable.

  • Alberon Alberon

    26 Mar 2010, 11:03AM

    It used to be great. Up to the millennium it was a fantastic show. Then it became very very silly indeed and I, along with many other viewers walked away.

    I did start watching it again after the revamp, and while it wasn't as good as before it wasn't bad, but then ITV took it off the air for all of December (IIRC) and I didn't notice it had come back and couldn't be bothered to watch it since.

  • Sipech Sipech

    26 Mar 2010, 11:08AM

    @whatthedeuce

    I hope this doesn't mean some shite reality show is going to take its place, but I fear it's inevitable.

    It's ITV. What do you expect? the only thing I'll miss is the fact that one of the DCIs has the same name as me, which has been the cause of much hilarity for over a decade.

  • joedoone joedoone

    26 Mar 2010, 11:08AM

    I gave up on The Bill after the ridiculous Todd Carty serial killer storyline. I remember when the show used to make a point of never showing the private lives of the plods; it switched into showing practically nothing else.

  • MkVII MkVII

    26 Mar 2010, 11:10AM

    The (brief) switch to a half hour format - including adverts - gave no time for anything but the most perfunctory plot development or characterisation.

    In recent years it seems to have concentrated on the character's sex lives rather than police procedure.

  • chrispalmer chrispalmer

    26 Mar 2010, 11:13AM

    when that lass form eastenders was in it, the 7 year old who couldn't string a sentence together without getting a head ache, it went a bit mental. and she was only 3 foot none.

    the bill live was still one of the best days of my life. thanks for the memories.

    reg will be spinning in his grave.

  • DuncanJenkins DuncanJenkins

    26 Mar 2010, 11:14AM

    it is an absoloute disgrace the bill is my life, it is my favourite programme and has been for years. All you trendies waffle on about The Wire but the reality is nothing happens, nothing ever happens. for a police drama that pushes all the buttons, reflects reality and a regular joe can connect with, you can not beat the bill. the wire is simply not as good as the bill. the bill won a bafta last year and that proves how good it is. this is the worst news i've had for years and i got sacked from my job this morning, this is even worse. please join my facebooks page and anyone who shares my anger can help me campain for the bills return.

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Duncan-Jenkins/111567212193515

  • xhunnibabex xhunnibabex

    26 Mar 2010, 11:14AM

    OMG
    you cannot do this ITV
    this is one of my favourite shows
    can you not put it on itv 2 or itv3 or something once a week
    seriously i really like this show
    why are you doing this

    please put it on another channel if you don't want it on itv1

  • greenstreetbengali greenstreetbengali

    26 Mar 2010, 11:14AM

    SHUT IT YOU SLAG. What a classic line. I heard Tosh was buried in his Mac. Can anyone confirm or deny this? It became crap when it started to have lots of ethnic minoroties as coppers, whereas before they were all middle aged whites dudes. And Burnside was the toughest of the lot. Good times.

  • Dunnyboy Dunnyboy

    26 Mar 2010, 11:19AM

    I personally think that it's got a lot better since it went all grim and postwatershed. Still, ITV don't want to break with tradition and make something good.

  • symball symball

    26 Mar 2010, 11:19AM

    As with many of thier offerings, ITV took a good twice weekly show that was really doing well and then decided to increase the number of shows- stretching it until it was almost breaking. the length was increased to fill more screen time, with mixed results (good stories could be explored better but bad ones just looked thinner) and in response to requiring more stuff to fill the time they decided to make it more of a soap.

    Having completely missed the whole point of the show they then responded to falling viewing figures by messing around with the format until it was a) unwatchable and b) unfindable as they played with the scheduling too.

    Finally they kill it off claiming that no-one likes it anymore.

    I just wish that somewhere a TV exec, will wake up and realise that sometimes the best thing for a programme is to leave it alone, rather than killing the golden goose each time.

    Just look at Casualties success- very little tweaking of a good idea ('specials' not withstanding) and despite some rather unbelievable storylines recently they have managed to keep the core of the show the same: b-z list stars all mugging to camera and lots of fake blood and vom flying around.

  • mannin mannin

    26 Mar 2010, 11:20AM

    Time for a show showing our cowardly, inept, politically subservient police service (no longer a force) for what it is. Recent burglary near me, police know the perps, DNA left at crime scene, but police won't go into the field where the perps are living illegally in motor homes because they need an armed response team before they dare go in, and the nearest one is a hundred miles away. No wonder the Bill served up such pap.

  • johnny5eyes johnny5eyes

    26 Mar 2010, 11:21AM

    I used to watch it a lot- must be about 10 years ago..and then stopped.
    The Bill is (was?) a huge cult hit in Australia- could they move it lock and barrell to downtown Sydney?

  • JamieHonthewing JamieHonthewing

    26 Mar 2010, 11:25AM

    It's not changing public tastes which killed The Bill.

    It's moving the show away from its established timeslot, changing it so it no longer looked, felt or even sounded like The Bill.

    No wonder ITV continue to lose audience share, it drives away its customers.

  • emma2001 emma2001

    26 Mar 2010, 11:26AM

    But times change, and so do the tastes of our audience

    Very true ITV the public have seen the behaviour of real police on our streets in recent years and do not like what they see and have decided in their millions that they do not want to see them in thier houses

    The dropping of the show reflects the publics changing attitude on how they view the police today in the UK

    Emma

  • Wirnicht Wirnicht

    26 Mar 2010, 11:28AM

    I remember at one point it was quite gritty and then it all went urban and braaaappp you get meee except that instead of it being sort of vaguely realistic (aka wire esq) It was sort of a middle England interpretation of what it might be like to work as social worker on the Isle of dogs.

  • Vortimer Vortimer

    26 Mar 2010, 11:32AM

    I used to watch The Bill religiously, but stopped about a decade ago, when favoured characters where been killed off in increasingly bizarre story lines more appropriate to The Professionals, and replaced with characters who had agendas leading to more body strewn OTT story arcs.

  • DickSocrates DickSocrates

    26 Mar 2010, 11:32AM

    I have never watched it, just not interested in that kind of thing, but the fact it was very popular and ran for so long suggests there is an audience for it when it is done in a particular way. So ITV 'revamp' it in a way that doesn't work and then cancel? Are they stupid?

    The idea that a police drama is no longer relevant is a bit silly. Low ratings means they messed it up, not that there is no audience.

    Hopefully they replace it with Celebrity Pogo-stick Diving. They can have all the actors who used to be in the Bill on it.

  • SongoftheSouth SongoftheSouth

    26 Mar 2010, 11:38AM

    You know they could give the Bill a 12 episode structure following a single crime that sparks an investigation into a larger network in an area of Sun Hill, say Peckham, and show us something that will broaden our appreciation of the underbelly of our city.
    Like, err, The Wire.
    And The Wire was not hugely expensive, it was just good quality, well-written, and was based on truth. There is no reason we shouldn't do something similar here, except ITV's lack of ambition.
    The Bill is pants now, and it's the result of execs meddling and a lack of cash.
    Tucker as a serial killer.
    Nuff said.

  • Pete100 Pete100

    26 Mar 2010, 11:39AM

    I used to love the bill and still do like it if I happen to catch an episode, but I never seem to watch it, I don't know why, just don't have the urge to put it on..... strange. I've just realised that this is quite a pointless comment by me for which I now apologise!

  • balladofdespair balladofdespair

    26 Mar 2010, 11:42AM

    Gitfinger is spot on. It was 2001/2 and the soapy hands of Paul Marquess that heralded the show's death. Dullard

    Maybe, but as The article points out:

    However, ratings for the show have failed to pick up. In 2002 the show averaged more that 7 million viewers, while more recently audiences been about 3.5 million

    Just saying.

  • TheChamp TheChamp

    26 Mar 2010, 11:45AM

    Shame to see yet another TV institution bite the dust, but it comes as no surprise. ITV have been trying to kill it off by moving its time slot and axing half the cast and half the episodes.

    But it all went tits up when it got too soapy. I stopped watching then because it became less about the job, more about the characters on the job, and if I want that I can watch Emmerdale.

  • prezzasknob prezzasknob

    26 Mar 2010, 11:55AM

    Good riddance. Its awful now and as far as i can remember it always was. I am sick to the back teeth looking at police officers and the bloody NHS on the television. Life is bad enough and long enough without being put through manufactured trauma every evening. I can only hope that it is not replaced by yet another hospital/police/fire service drama. I wish they'd use all that money and time for something else. Something fun. Social Workers on Ice? What ever happened to fun. Remember fun?

  • picardy picardy

    26 Mar 2010, 11:58AM

    hwo much time has the so called trailer trash tribe got to watch trash tv. the tribe has moved on to the 1000 or so digital channels to feed their fast food tv appitite, the bill born in time of safe tv, and ring fenced profits, today its a diet of coliseum tv with fake brit punters as the stars, the bill was always the medicated or sanitized face of british policing, th eface no one ever saw on the street, if i believed the face the government sponsered, i leave my car and front door open and police worked their butts off the catch the perp, but as we all know you can never find thebill when yo need one, they all looking forward to the bumper pensions and who needs the great unwashed, or the like of baby "p2 to get in the way, of na earlyretirement, but i have to admit those safe days when i believed the governments version of the truth and watched the police working hard and catching criminals usually trailer trash tribe, never th ewell educated middle class, as they never commit crime.

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