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Future of The Panel looks bleak as viewing figures plunge

The future of RTE's The Panel is in jeopardy as TV bosses contemplate axing the long-running series for good.

The Herald can reveal the satirical programme, along with its new host, economist David McWilliams, could soon be shelved, following what insiders have described as "a disappointing run" last autumn.

It had been hoped that McWilliams would be just the ticket to entice viewers back to watching the Thursday night comedy show, however it seems last season's disappointing rating figures failed to impress Montrose bigwigs.

The debut episode of McWilliams' first outing as host of the satirical show drew in an average of just 282,000 viewers, despite the inclusion of an apology from David to Prime Time presenter, Miriam O'Callaghan.

Just days before the first programme went to air, McWilliams had hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons when it emerged that he had made a number of comments about the mum-of-eight is his new book, Follow The Money, including a comparison which described her as "Hannah Montana's ma".

It later emerged that O'Callaghan had been approached to take part in a festive episode of the show, but politely turned the invite down.

The Christmas episode never materialised, with an RTE representative claiming that "there were no confirmed plans for a Christmas special".

The spokesperson could not confirm that the series will return next autumn.

"As regards future series, no commissioning decision has yet been made," they told the Herald.

Meanwhile, station insiders claim the programme's days are numbered, with little hope that it will return to screens next autumn.

"They've tried everything, from a sliding panel of presenters to bringing in David McWilliams as the full-time host, but viewers just don't have the same appetite for The Panel anymore," said a station insider.

"The ratings were a lot lower than expected and they decided to take it off the air after just seven episodes, which is a bad sign.

"Normally if they were happy with how it was performing they would have brought it back for another few episodes in the New Year.

"The fact that it was moved from RTE Two to One didn't do it any favours either, because both channels have a completely different core audience," the source added.

The show's troubles first began when comic Dara O Briain quit almost four years ago, leading RTE to "rest" the programme before bringing it back in 2007 with Colin Murphy and Neil Delamare sharing the hosting.