Heartbeat is axed after 18 years

Heartbeat Joe McFadden and Rupert Ward-Lewis star in the show

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Long-running police drama Heartbeat is to be dropped, and next month's series will be the last, ITV has announced.

The nostalgic drama, which is set in North Yorkshire, has been on the air for 18 years.

An ITV spokesman said: "We are overhauling our schedule to reflect the changing demands of our audience [and] refreshing the mix of programming we commission and broadcast."

Last January, ITV said production of the show had been suspended.

At the time, the broadcaster said it wanted to clear a stockpile of unbroadcast episodes before filming resumed.

On Friday, ITV said the decision to cancel the series was not based on saving money, but was part of boss Peter Fincham's plans to overhaul the channel's output.

"We will continue to maintain our significant investment in the genre, the biggest of any commercial broadcaster, but ITV1's future focus will be on new and varied drama commissions," said the spokesman.

"Heartbeat has been an important part of the television landscape over the last 18 years and we are incredibly proud of what it achieved in its heyday as one of ITV1's top rated dramas," the spokesman said.

Set in the 1960s, Heartbeat was based on the books of Peter Walker, who wrote under the pen name Nicholas Rhea.

The story followed police constable Joe Mason, played by Joe McFadden, who patrolled the streets of Aidensfield.

The series drew up to seven million viewers in its Sunday night slot, about half as many as the first series in 1992.

In those days, the central character was PC Nick Rowan, played by former EastEnders star Nick Berry.

The final nine episodes will be watched around the world, as over the years the cosy drama has been sold to broadcasters in Australia, Canada, Norway and Belgium.

Viewers in Sweden have already seen the concluding instalments, as TV station TV4 chose not to break up the series.

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