They made their name as the permanently cheery husband and wife presenting team on ITV's This Morning and in recent years have entertained the teatime audience on Channel 4. But from the autumn, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan will move to the relative obscurity of digital television.
The pay-television network UKTV has signed the couple for a "significant sum". But what the pair gain financially, they will lose in prestige. Their Channel 4 show regularly pulls in two million viewers to the 5pm slot. They can expect a much lower audience of fewer than 400,000 on UKTV.
The decision to strike a deal with UKTV, which is half owned by BBC Worldwide – the corporation's commercial arm – and half by Virgin Media Television, suggests that more high-profile broadcasters such as the BBC, ITV and Sky did not express sufficient interest in poaching them when their contract with Channel 4 comes to an end in September.
When the couple announced they were leaving Channel 4 in November last year, after 20 years of presenting live daytime TV, many assumed that Finnigan would fulfil her long-expressed desire to write a novel, while Madeley would pursue his own projects.
Leaving Channel 4 also meant escaping the taint of the television phone-in scandal after the premium-rate phone-line watchdog, Icstis, fined the phone operator Eckoh £150,000 over the Richard and Judy "You Say We Pay" competition.
But the pair said the temptation to continue working together had proved too strong. Following the successful rebranding of its G2 channel in October 2007 as Dave – aimed at a young male audience offering repeats of Top Gear and QI – UKTV is expected to relaunch its most popular pay-TV channel UKTV Gold in the summer. Madeley and Finnigan's new show will launch on the rebranded channel in the autumn in a prime time slot.
Their UKTV show will be made by Cactus TV, the independent production company owned by Jonathan Ross's brother Simon and his wife Amanda, which currently makes their Channel 4 show. It will feature the popular Richard and Judy book and wine clubs, which have been great money-spinners for their respective industries.
Finnigan said: "When we announced our decision to leave our current television series after seven years, we were very touched by the number of people – friends, family, guests, viewers and broadcasters – who told us how much they wanted to see us continuing making programmes together."
Madeley said UKTV's proposal was "attractive and fun and will give us the kind of flexibility in our personal lives we've been looking for".
The editor of Broadcast magazine, Lisa Campbell, said: "Although their popularity has declined from their heyday, one would have expected them to have retained a high profile on a mainstream channel once their Channel 4 contract was up, particularly owing to the success of their book and wine clubs.
"To move to a UKTV channel which isn't even on Freeview means they'll be playing out to a fraction of the two million-plus audience they've been used to. Peak ratings on UKTV Gold so far this year have been just 380,000. So although a move to a niche channel is great news for the broadcaster, it's quite a shock move by what was once TV's golden couple."
Madeley and Finnigan defected from ITV to Channel 4 in 2001. Their show runs in rotation with The New Paul O'Grady Show, with three months off air and three months on.Reuse content