Is the BBC ready to say farewell to the fondue sets and cuddly toys?

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The Independent Online

Jim Davidson is quitting The Generation Game, a prime focus of BBC1's Saturday night viewing for more than 20 years, as ratings continue to slump.

Davidson said yesterday he was leaving to develop a family sitcom with Carla Lane, the writer of classic comedies such as The Liver Birds and Bread. He added that he had taken the show as far as he could.

The BBC, which says it will be bringing back the programme next year, will begin the search for a presenter who can breathe new life into it. The basic format of one older and one younger member of a family competing will be kept, but other changes are likely.

Revamping the programme could become part of a larger review by the BBC at its Saturday night programming.

The corporation is likely to consider presenters for The Generation Game who are known to a weekend audience. They would probably include Davina McCall, Ulrika Jonsson, Ruby Wax, Ian Wright or the new BBC signing Dom Joly.

Davidson has hosted the show for seven series, longer than either of its best-known comperes, Bruce Forsyth and Larry Grayson. But recently it has slipped badly in the ratings. Some of that slump can be blamed on the runaway success of Pop Idol on ITV1, but a longer-term decline is also apparent.

The show attracted audiences of up to 19 million at its peak in the 1970s with Bruce Forsyth, but has recently had fewer than 3.5 million viewers, and on one Saturday recorded 3.3 million, its lowest figure. It recovered slightly when Pop Idol ended, but last Saturday still managed only 4.2 million viewers. In January 2001 it averaged 6 million a show.

Lorraine Heggessey, the controller of BBC1, said: "Jim will be a hard act to follow so we need to think carefully about what's next for The Generation Game." Jane Lush, the BBC's entertainment commissioner, said: "Jim's done a triumphant job of making the show his own and, while we know the audience will miss him, we can completely understand his desire to do something different. We've already started talking about new projects, including a sitcom which we hope to pilot this summer."

This series will finish with an hour-long special celebrating Davidson's favourite moments from his past shows.

He said yesterday: "I've had a fantastic time on The Generation Game but after seven years I feel that now is the right time for some new challenges. As soon as my current tour comes to an end I'll be packing thermals for my trip to the Falklands and on my return it will be straight into work on my first sitcom in 12 years."

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