Bitchy women and mass murder as 'The Bill' tries to arrest decline

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The Independent Online

What do women really want? Nasty, caddish men, bitchy females and a touch of mass murder, it seems.

What do women really want? Nasty, caddish men, bitchy females and a touch of mass murder, it seems.

The producers of The Bill, ITV's popular but hitherto macho police drama, have decided to revamp the programme after research showed it was not sufficiently appealing to women. The results will become apparent over the next few weeks; and they show television producers have a curious understanding of the female psyche.

The hour-long episode each Thursday is currently watched by about seven million people. Six months ago, the programme was scoring between nine and 10 million in the ratings.

Alan Boyd, the chief executive of Thames Television, which produces The Bill, said of the revamp: "It will be much more like ER or The West Wing. We have to bring back the doubters and the female audience."

A new series producer, Paul Marquis, was brought in from Channel 4's Brookside to spice up the personal relationships.

Programme insiders say the series will be more character driven and relationships will play a more central role. These might include developing the role of Superintendent Tom Chandler, a noted ladies' man, who has been described as "a bit Clintonesque' and is currently sleeping with Detective Sergeant Kate Spears.

The new regime in charge of The Bill is also planning a disaster, possibly a bomb attack, at the police station. Some of the officers will lose their lives and there will be a poignant memorial service. The catastrophe is also meant to appeal to female viewers. And, in a moment redolent of Greek tragedy, Det Sgt Spears will be at the station the moment disaster strikes. Such is the punishment for illicit love.

Among a group of new women coming on to the programme will be a feisty new inspector, Gina Gould, "a whisky-drinking, fag-smoking, ballsy character in her fifties". She will be played by Roberta Taylor, who took the role of Irene in EastEnders. Soap addicts will have mixed feelings about this. Irene's estranged husband in EastEnders is currently trying to track her down. Unless Taylor can perform unprecedented feats of channel hopping, he will fail.

The Gina Gould character is likely to be locked in constant battle with another female officer, Sergeant June Ackland. But that is when they are not being pestered by another new character, Det Sgt Phil Hunter, played by Scott Maslen, who appeared in the television version of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He will be "the nastiest piece of work in the CID" according to one of the production team.

And somewhere among all this, maybe, there will be the occasional solving of a crime – if that isn't pandering to the neanderthal tastes of male viewers too much, one supposes.