SOAP ON THE ROPES; EastEnders bosses in talks over ratings crisis.
EASTENDERS bosses are locked in crisis talks with BBC chiefs after ratings continue to slump below Coronation Street.
For the first time in at least two years, the Albert Square soap has fallen approximately 1.5 million viewers behind Corrie for several months in a row. Its rival was also crowned Best Soap last month at the National TV Awards. BBC bosses are believed to be concerned that a string of new youthful characters are alienating older viewers.
A show source said: "EastEnders is going through a major transition, and some of the BBC's senior managers are concerned the show might suffer long term if well-loved characters are sidelined." BBC drama chief John Yorke - who was in charge of the soap from 2000 to 2002 - is said to be at odds with show producer Bryan Kirkwood, 36, an arrival from Channel 4 teen soap Hollyoaks.
The source added: "In the last two months, viewers have seen lots of Lauren Branning, Lucy Beale, Whitney, Fatboy, Ben Mitchell, Jay, Abi Branning and Anthony Moon - but not nearly so much of the classic characters.
"Phil Mitchell is currently in prison, Sam Womack quit her role as Ronnie Mitchell last year, and Shane Richie's Alfie Moon has taken a back seat in the absence of wife Kat because Jessie Wallace is off for three months. At the moment there are more youngsters in Albert Square than there are in Hollyoaks. John is concerned that viewers may be put off by the new stars, and wants to get it back to a more traditional feel. It's a worrying time, and urgent action is planned."
But an EastEnders spokesperson said yesterday: "We continually discuss where the show is going every month to ensure EastEnders remains fresh and at the top of its game.
"As ratings illustrate, it is in rude health consolidating with an average of more than nine million viewers every week."
BACK SEAT J Alfie Moon and wife Kat