As The Bill prepares to bow out, can the schedule’s remaining shows hit the same audience figures?

In the week when The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an increase in tax on fermented apple juice, forcing the UK’s scrumpy drinkers to ponder building a cider still in their airing cupboards, we in the TV world had a very real reason to feel a sense of ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ as The Bill’s permanent retirement after 26 years on ITV was declared.

Elsewhere, Dancing On Ice finished its one-week-longer-than-last-year run. The latest piece in ITV1’s Friday entertainment plan found itself against a bunch of Dorothys, while Saturday evenings, you get the feeling, are waiting for a Doctor and juggling poodles.

A billion years ago, when I was guessing how many viewers would watch adverts for the Thames TV sales department, I attended a presentation about the scheduling of The Bill. It was the late 1980s and the show was in its early and vital vigour.

The idea, a revolutionary one - and, with only four channels, pretty effective - was to make it a 30-minute show and play it at 8pm straight after EastEnders. The audience switchover from BBC1 to The Bill duly followed, and the ITV schedule had found a solid mid-evening drama foundation.

But now in 2010, it has been retired to Letsbe Avenue to be but a memory.

The new Champions League contract meant that ITV would show yet more football on Wednesdays to add to the FA Cup replays and England matches; Wednesdays became ‘event’ nights and the regular 8pm slot was gone. Coronation Street’s slot also moved - to Thursday at 8.30pm. With its twice-weekly berths gone, The Bill went to once a week at 9pm - a cost-effective way to keep drama on the channel and The Bill in the schedule.

But the gulf in viewer expectation at 8pm is vastly different from 9pm. While The Bill battled valiantly - as only it knows how - to overcome this issue, in the end it was to no avail.

The trick, then, for ITV1 is to undertake its avowed refreshment of the schedule in an equally consistent and relatively economical way, hopefully not looking back in anguish at how gorgeous 4 million viewers felt each Thursday.

With perfect, mischievous timing this week, The Bill was the highest-performing show on any channel at 9pm, with 4.5million/20%. A fine brand and great performer for so very long; those who worked on it, and whom I had the privilege of driving up the wall with my crazy demands, should be proud of what they achieved. Farewell Sun Hill, and thank you.

BBC1’s launch of Over The Rainbow dug up 4.3million/18% on Friday; not beating the opposition to death with a trowel, but still enough to see off ITV1’s Comedy Rocks With Jason Manford’s 3.6million/15%. Not great, but a decent effort for a one-off in a difficult schedule strategy change, and much better than the bowel-clenching awfulness of the previous four weeks.

On Saturday Harry Hill’s 5.7 million/24% was too strong for a more perky Over The Rainbow’s 5.2million/24%, but it did peak at 7 million as Burp finished. Ant And Dec’s Push The Button’s 5.1million/21% lost out to BBC1’s lottery show Who Dares Wins, which attracted 6 million/26%.

Dancing On Ice ended well, dominating the night with its 8.8 million/32%. Next year’s task - to re-woo the 16-34s, whose indifference this year brought the celebrity skating competition’s share down overall by around 9%. Pesky, perfidious kids.