- guardian.co.uk, Friday 26 March 2010 10.23 GMT
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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