Legendary comedy quiz Shooting Stars, which has been hosted on and off by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer for 16 years, has been axed by BBC2.
A short statement by the BBC suggests that the programme is one of the first specific victims of cuts to the Corporation -and that alternative projects for Reeves and Mortimer on BBC2 are unlikely. "In future there will be less space on BBC2 for comedy/entertainment panel shows," said a BBC spokesperson, "so sadly Shooting Stars won't be returning. We'd like to thank Vic and Bob for everything they've brought to the channel over the years."
This follows the announcement last month of plans under the cost-cutting Delivering Quality First initiative, in which BBC2 – which is to reduce its content spend by 6% by 2017, and is to take on comedies and dramas previously produced by BBC4 – was asked in particular to make fewer panel shows.
It is highly questionable, however, whether Shooting Stars really falls under the panel show banner: its admirers would surely argue that it's a unique comedy that only superficially uses the panel format but is an ideal conduit for Reeves and Mortimer's oddball humour, with the celebrity guests contributing little other than to act as the butt of jokes, and the questions and answers irrelevant.
Shooting Stars ran for three series between 1995 and 1997 and a further two in 2002 before being revived in 2009. Its comeback was a surprise but was well received, initially attracting well over 2 million viewers.
In the summer, ratings for the third series since the revival were middling but not disastrous: the show hovered between 1m and 1.5m viewers.
And the show attracted much praise. "It's had the best critical acclaim in years," said Bob Mortimer in August, "so maybe the time's come round again. There's a feeling in the air that maybe things have got a bit dreary again. There's a need for something a bit stupid - a bit Milligan, a bit Cooper."
Fans felt that Angelos Epithemiou had grown into his role as the programme's scorer – a position initially held by Matt Lucas – and that Vic Reeves' relentless put-downs of team captain Jack Dee were a particular highlight.
Shooting Stars immediately became a top trending topic on Twitter when the news of the cancellation was broken by Bob Mortimer. Fellow comedians expressed their disappointment.
Mark Gatiss branded the decision "unbelievable", while Dave Gorman amusingly dubbed it: "Ulrika-ka-ka-katastrophe!"
"A genuine outrage," said Times critic Caitlin Moran. "I hope some other channel snaps up Shooting Stars immediately: it's one of the best comedy shows of the last 20 years."
"So innovative, cerebral and f***ing funny it made my heart soar the BBC made it," was Grace Dent of The Guardian's description of the show.
"Unbelievable," tweeted Al Murray at the news of the cancellation. "Boneheaded."
Former Fast Show star Simon Day was even more forthright: "Shooting Stars: funniest show on telly," he wrote. "Great idea to drop it, from people who care."
"Shame about Shooting Stars," tweeted Radio 1 DJ Greg James. "Grew up with that show and [it] made me realise what proper stupid comedy was all about."
Burnistoun co-creator Robert Florence said: "When the BBC cancels Shooting Stars, all hope is lost."
Meanwhile, Peter Serafinowicz succinctly summed up how Reeves and Mortimer's fans felt upon hearing the news: "Aw, f***," he said.