EASTENDERS is said to be in crisis after slumping to 5.7 million viewers this week, well below rival ITV show Coronation Street which picked up 8.4 million.

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Ratings for the soap set in the fictional London Borough of Walford were once regularly six million higher and even as recently as February this year, EastEnders pulled in 9 million viewers a week.

On the bright side, the soap first seen in 1985 has come back from previous troughs. In 2006, one episode was watched by only 3.9 million viewers.

Disgruntled fans are thought to be fed up with the show’s new range of young characters and story lines, brought in by former Hollyoaks producer Bryan Kirkwood.

The programme also faces losing popular characters Tanya Branning, Dot Cotton and Janine Butcher, as they will take six-month breaks over the summer.

Other favourites such as Bianca Jackson and Ricky Butcher have recently been written out of the show temporarily.

It also emerged last night that Anthony Moon – played by Matt Lapinskas (on the right in the picture, with castmate Tony Discipline)- has been axed after less than a year on the show.

An insider told The Sun: “EastEnders looks like it will be playing its B-team this summer.

“For fair-weather fans it won’t be good enough and could end up being a summer of misery for the show. No one is happy with the ratings.”

Explaining her decision to take a break from the show next year, Jo Joyner, who plays Tanya, said: “It’s been pretty full-on and the rest of the year is going to be even more dramatic because the Brannings have got some amazing stuff coming up. I want to spend some quality time with my family so it’s time for a break.”

Jo will spent time with her three-year-old twins, daughter Edie and son Freddie, and her actor husband Neil Madden.