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End of the affair for Five’s soap

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Family Affairs, the first programme broadcast on channel Five when it launched in March 1997, has been axed.

Production on the long-running soap, which is made by independent production company Talkback Thames, will continue until October, with the last episodes due to air until the end of the year. Despite an upturn in ratings, with audiences consistently around 1.5 million by the end of last year, the show’s performance in recent months has been flagging. Last week viewing figures for the show were less than 900,000.

Dan Chambers, Five’s director of programmes, said: “This was a very difficult decision to make but we felt the series had come to the end of its natural lifespan and the time was right to try something new.”

It is unlikely the broadcaster will replace the series with another weekday soap but Chambers confirmed that it would invest the programme’s budget, which is in excess of £10 million, into a range of original primetime drama projects and scripted comedy.

The move to free up the money follows the announcement by Ofcom that it is raising Five’s quota for original productions to 55% in 2006, a 2% jump from this year’s figure. This means Five will have to commission an extra 175 hours of original programmes from next January until its current licence expires in 2014.

It also follows a considerable amount of upheaval behind the scenes at Family Affairs. Earlier this year Paul Marquess, who was an executive producer on that soap and The Bill, left Talkback Thames to head a new drama division with Big Brother producer Endemol. Alison Davis, the show’s series producer, then moved across to become executive producer on The Bill.

Former EastEnders producer Sean O’Connor and most recently Talkback Thames head of drama Jonathan Young were brought in. However, the move failed to persuade executives at Five to continue production.

The indie’s chief executive, Lorraine Heggessey, said: “I’m disappointed, as I felt we had bright new plans for the show, including some strong new actors. We do have several drama projects in development with a variety of broadcasters.”

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