The Bill will be cut back to one episode a week and move to a new 9pm time slot.

The move is expected to see some popular characters axed or force them to take a pay cut, according to reports in The Sun.

The long-running cop show, which last year celebrated its 25th anniversary, currently airs twice a week at 8pm and pulls in more than six million viewers. It has not yet been announced when the changes will be made.

A source told the paper: “This is terrible news for The Bill as ITV tries to save money. The show has been on air for 25 years – millions of people will be disappointed.”

But TV bosses insist that the show will be given a bigger budget and that its post-watershed time slot will allow for grittier content.

In recent months, The Bill has tackled some hard-hitting storylines including gun crime, child abuse and drug trafficking.

Peter Fincham, ITV’s director of television said: “I’m delighted to announce The Bill’s transition to a weekly 9pm drama on ITV1. It’s a fantastic opportunity to take the series to another level, marking a new era for one of the most established brands on British television.”

But a spokeswoman for the series told The Sun: “We do expect redundancies. And, yes, we will be looking at the implications for the cast – but there will be no mass exit storylines.”

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