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'Eldorado' sees future in sudden death

THE Eldorado storyline acquired a new twist yesterday: the entire cast takes a coach trip to Gibraltar and falls victim to the infamous 'Highway of Death', the motorway that runs along the Costa del Sol.

Only the most popular characters survive the terrible crash. But the BBC snatches victory from disaster. Las Terrazas, the Eldorado plasterboard village is repopulated by recruits who know how to act.

It may turn out to be nothing more than fiction. But this was the storyline raging around the Eldorado set where the mood was reported to be 'disappointed but not depressed' at the critical thumbs-down the programme is receiving.

The soap is now in its third week after a very poor start. Its 17 July episode failed - with 4.4 million viewers - to make it into the BBC's own top 30, not such a demanding task in the summer when repeats rule. This is worse than EastEnders' teething troubles seven years ago when the competition for audiences was less intense.

Even BBC Radio 4's World at One stuck in the knife yesterday, giving airtime to critics, including Russell Twisk, editor of Reader's Digest, who wondered how the BBC could justify it on the licence fee. Eldorado actors say that the critical problem lies with younger members of the cast, who are supposed to attract children to the serial but who lack the acting experience essential for a soap.

Julia Smith, Eldorado's producer is known for her belief in creating stars from unknowns. But savage cast changes - crash or no crash - are expected in September, when actors hear whether they are being offered a six-month extension of contract.