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Turning off Richard & Judy

The once-mighty names of teatime TV now face shrinking ratings on a minor digital channel. Paul Bignell reports

They have spent the best part of two decades as Britain's most unlikely TV power couple. Now it seems the fortunes – and ratings – of the husband-and-wife team are dropping fast, despite once having A-list guests queue to appear with them and a lucrative book club that could make or break an author.

Since the couple's move last month from Channel 4 to the cable channel Watch, viewing figures for Richard and Judy's New Position have slumped disastrously, even by cable channel standards. The prime-time show attracted just 20,000 viewers for one recent broadcast, plummeting from 149,000 for the much-heralded first show at the beginning of October. The average is just 47,000 compared with 2.5 million in their Channel 4 heyday.

Matthew Littleford, controller of UKTV (owners of Watch), was bullish yesterday, claiming the show was in its early stages and viewing figures would soon rise. "It takes time for a show to bed in, and we are very confident that ratings will rise as awareness about the show grows," he said.

A spokesman for Richard and Judy told the IoS this weekend that the show will move to a new 6pm-7pm time slot in the New Year in an attempt to boost viewing figures. "The 8pm time slot had the programme competing against soap operas and big dramas in the schedules," he said.

Industry insiders believe the move to a cable channel is part of a winding-down process for the couple. Last year they announced their retirement after parting company with Channel 4, with Richard planning to work as a solo TV personality while Judy would spend time writing books.

Their spokesman said that the new show gave them more flexibility to pursue other interests as not all of the shows would be recorded live. "As far as them winding down, we would say absolutely not," he added.

Mark Borkowski, a publicist and PR expert, said: "Personality brands occasionally have to be rested and try to create some nostalgia for that person to come back. Some of the best television formats have been those brave enough to cut personalities off in their prime, rather than suffer the 'slings and arrows' when they've stretched for too long."

Questions are also being asked within the publishing industry about whether the couple's influential book club – which has generated £60m of sales and is still featured on the new show – can sustain its performance when ratings are so low.

The next generation: Switch over, here comes another Madeley...

Chloe Madeley admits her famous parents can make her cringe. "I could not ask for more supportive, loving and understanding parents," she once said. "But I wish they would behave."

How Richard and Judy felt after the nation had seen their daughter stripped down to her stockings for a photoshoot in July is not known. The 21-year-old has since popped up at celebrity parties in outfits with sufficient paparazzi appeal to ensure a regular spot in the gossip columns, where her billing has changed from "club promoter" to "budding TV presenter".

Chloe wants to follow her parents into TV and she has already been on Mum and Dad's cable show.

More viewers are likely when she appears in January on the TV show 'Dancing on Ice'. While Richard and Judy will no doubt muscle in with some supportive cheerleading, the next Madeley to star in a prime-time slot is more likely to be Chloe.

Richard Osley