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Friday, September 18, 1998 Published at 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK


The axeman cometh for C5 family

Coronation Street vies with EastEnders to top the ratings chart

Channel 5 are to kill off the entire family at the centre of their daily soap Family Affairs in a bid for more viewers.

It is their latest tactic in a fierce battle of the soaps being waged across all five of the UK's terrestrial TV channels.

The imminent arrival of digital television next week also means the fight for audiences will be fiercer than ever before.

Soap operas are increasingly seen as the biggest weapon in the ratings war, and it seems programme executives are prepared to do almost anything to win viewers' attention.

The axing of all eight members of Channel 5's flagship soap family represents the most radical restructuring of any television drama yet attempted.

[ image: Anna Friel: lesbian kiss on Brookside]
Anna Friel: lesbian kiss on Brookside
The show's original concept was to chronicle the lives of builder Chris Hart and his family in their comfortable Maidenhead home. During its 18-month history, the programme has included ten affairs, two deaths, a heart attack, two pregnancies and a young girl's lesbianism.

The imminent demise of the Hart family was announced to a shocked cast on Friday by Brian Park the former Coronation Street executive producer who earned the nickname 'Axeman' by writing eight characters out of the ITV soap.

Chris Hart and his wife Annie, their parents and offspring will meet their fates from this December with grandparents Jack and Elsa Gates being the first to meet their maker.

New storylines

Channel 5 are keeping the details of their mass demise under wraps but said they will also be launching an "explosive storyline" early next year.

Announcing the departures, which amount to half of the 16-strong cast, Mr Park said: "Naturally, we are sorry to see so many fine actors leave the show. However, Family Affairs needs to move into a new phase in order to compete with rival soaps."

However, the increased mortality rate in suburban Maidenhead is just one sympton of the on-going battle for ratings supremacy.

[ image: Grant Mitchell's affair is boosting EastEnders ratings]
Grant Mitchell's affair is boosting EastEnders ratings
Audience figures have declined steadily during the past decade. Only five years ago, the BBC's EastEnders and its arch-rival ITV's Coronation Street routinely garnered audiences of about 20 million per episode. That figure has now dropped to around 15 million.

Family Affairs currently hovers around the one-million mark, but recent figures indicate that number is growing, and the radical restructuring is likely to boost audiences further.

All the major soaps have increased the number of their episodes, regularly showing five-night specials when a particularly strong story is on the boil, and plot lines are becoming increasingly racy.

Last Sunday's special hour-length episode of EastEnders featured Grant Mitchell's steamy shennanigans with his mother-in-law while his wife Tiffany enjoyed the attentions of her own lusty admirer.

A lesbian kiss in Brookside caused tabloid uproar just a few years ago, but Family Affairs' portrayal of the relationship between two women has barely raised any eyebrows at all.

Other soaps are following suit with current storylines including a man with the hots for his girlfriend's daughter (Brookside), a woman abandoning her home and family for her new lover (Coronation Street) and a soon-to-be-married aristocrat bedding her chauffeur (Emmerdale).

It is a trend that looks set to continue with violent deaths or violent passions being the easiest way to snatch viewers in the escalating ratings war.

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