After taking to the stage amid loud applause, the 88-year-old said he had watched clips of other shows up for awards during the evening, and it was all rubbish.
The humiliation of being rubbished by their honoured guest was taken constructively by ZDF bosses, who said on Sunday they were offering Reich-Ranicki a new programme.
ZDF had broadcast the critic's ‘The Literary Quartet', for which he was being honoured, in his work of bringing high-brow literary conversation to the masses.
The broadcaster also said it would show the snub in full as part of the awards ceremony due to be shown on television on Sunday evening.
Reich-Ranicki left presenter Thomas Gottschalk, who had just delivered a lengthy introduction, lost for words when he rejected the prize, saying, “To be absolutely honest, I am not accepting the prize. I do not belong in this company.”
The 88-year-old, the public face of literary criticism and debate in Germany, initially refused to take the prize in his hands. It was reported on Sunday that after being offered the new show, he did in fact accept the prize.
Saturday night's invited audience of German television's great and good were shocked into silence, reports the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Reich-Ranicki admitted later that he should have said in advance that he was not going to accept the award at the glittering gala evening in Cologne, but said, “I did not realise what was waiting here for me.”
“It is terrible that I have to experience this,” Reich-Ranicki said, adding that he had had many great evenings in television, citing Arte, the French-German publicly funded high-brow channel. “But not this rubbish,” he concluded.