Night falls on daytime TV's king and queen

Richard and Judy's 21-year screen career at an end as digital channel show is axed

In their prime, not even on-screen bickering, cringeworthy Ali G impressions or embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions could spoil the allure of Richard and Judy as they pulled in millions of daytime television viewers.

But it seems that a move to the broadcasting backwater of the newly launched digital television channel Watch has finally killed the ratings magic of Britain's most famous marital double act.

Yesterday it was announced that the couple's eponymous chat show has been cancelled after just eight months and will end when the current series finished on 3 July. It will be the first time in 21 years that Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan have not had a slot to fill on Britain's television screens.

The decision was taken after a meeting in central London on Thursday when the couple met the show's producers and executives and decided that due to plummeting ratings – viewing figures fell from a high of 174,000 to just 11,000 at their lowest – the show should cease.

A joint statement released by the couple and Watch said: "Ratings had not been in line with expectations and new audience research has prompted Watch to re-focus its direction towards family-skewed entertainment and away from topical discussion-based output."

Madeley and Finnegan added: "Some you win, some you lose. It's a shame we couldn't get this one to fly because both we and our brilliant young production team were genuinely proud of the show and the guests it attracted. But it became obvious that it wasn't the right fit with a brand new pay TV digital channel. Many of our former viewers have told us they simply couldn't find us there. When we started we said we wanted to get ahead of the curve, as British television inevitably goes digital. Looks like we were a bit too far ahead of the curve. Perhaps a bridge too far too soon, despite UKTV's strong support. But TV is all about taking risks and that means sometimes you fail. It was a really worthwhile experiment and we don't regret it at all."

A source close to the couple said the pair now planned to go on holiday over the summer and work on other projects upon their return. Madeley has said he is keen on taking on solo projects after two decades of working with his wife. Finnegan is said to be keen to concentrate on writing.

The couple became recognised as the faces of ITV's This Morning show which they hosted since its inception in 1988 until 2001. In 2000 they faced ridicule for Madeley's cringe-inducing impression of the character Ali G. The same year Finnegan suffered embarrassment when, at the National Television Awards, her dress popped open and exposed her bra.

They then moved to Channel 4 to host Richard & Judy. At its peak it attracted three million viewers and was responsible for launching the hugely successful Richard & Judy Book Club. Talks with other television stations are already under way with a view to the book club continuing on another channel. They moved to Watch in October last year and were contracted until December before being dropped this week.

Viewing figures

3 million

Peak audience of Richard and Judy on Channel 4

174,000

Highest viewing figures of the couple's programme on Watch

11,000

Lowest viewing figures for Watch show

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