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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
ITV tops TV drama ratings
Coronation Street
Shows such as Coronation Street helped ITV1 top the ratings

ITV executives are celebrating the release of ratings figures showing a wave of success for their drama programmes.

Seven out of the top 10 shows are from ITV1, including Coronation Street, Heartbeat, A Touch of Frost and The Royal.

Thirteen of the top 20 dramas in the first half of 2003 were ITV1 programmes, including new Martin Clunes and Julie Walters series William and Mary, and drama-documentary Danielle Cable - Eye Witness.

ITV drama controller Nick Elliott said: "The figures show that a mixed diet of long-running shows and surprises works."

Most popular dramas 2003
1. Coronation Street (ITV1)
2. EastEnders (BBC One)
3. Heartbeat (ITV1)
4. A Touch of Frost (ITV1)
5. The Royal (ITV1

Meanwhile, ITV denied it had stopped commissioning new situation comedies, after the network was attacked by the star of its axed series Barbara.

The series won best European comedy series at the Monte Carlo Television Festival at the weekend, and has also been a success in the US.

Star Gwen Taylor, who picked up the award on Saturday, told The Times newspaper she believed ITV was giving up on sitcoms, and moving into "lifestyle reality" shows instead.

"They told us that ITV is not commissioning any new sitcoms, including Barbara, which was disappointing because were broadcast on 74 stations across the US and have been one of the most popular series on ITV in recent years," she told the paper.

Bernard Cribbins, Sam Kelly, Gwen Taylor
Barbara has been a hit for ITV, but has not been recommissioned
"There is a large audience of middle-class, middle-aged people who you are leaving high and dry."

The show centres on a Yorkshire housewife who dominates her friends and family.

Produced by Carlton, it was not an overnight success when it launched in 1995, but steadily built up a devoted following.

But an ITV spokeswoman told BBC News Online the network was still committed to comedy, and had just recommissioned its series Hardware, starring The Office's Martin Freeman and former Coronation Street star Ken Morley.

"Barbara has run its course, but if we were pulling out of comedy, then we wouldn't be commissioning a new series of Hardware," she said.

It has become more difficult over the past decade for mainstream broadcasters to find success with prime-time family comedy series.

ITV1's Barbara and BBC One's My Family have been among the few to have achieved good ratings and critical acclaim.

But the biggest hits have come from BBC Two or Channel 4, or have gone out after the 9pm watershed, such as The Office, Coupling, or Absolutely Fabulous.

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