John Humphrys - Has reality TV has its day?

May 17, 2019, 1:03 PM GMT+0

Daytime television will never be quite the same again. Its most popular and profitable programme, the Jeremy Kyle Show, has been taken off air by order of Dame Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of ITV. She blamed “the gravity of recent events”. And Kyle will not be the only victim of those events. An inquiry has been announced into reality TV and the duty of care owed to those who take part in them. Is this reaction justified or are many people being deprived of entertainment they enjoy to avoid offending the sensitivities of the middle class?

The crisis was triggered by the death of a participant on Kyle. Steve Dymond, who was 63, took his own life after he “failed” a lie detector test on the programme. Mr Kyle had been accused of cheating on his fiancée and he denied it. It was reported that he broke down in tears after he was informed of the “failure”. Lie detectors are inadmissible in courts of law because they are not considered to be reliable, but they were frequently used on the Kyle show to heighten tension in the studio. So were hefty security guards, who were needed when fights broke out in the studio between the participants. Kyle’s accusers say the fights were encouraged.

Two days after Mr Dymond’s death ITV announced that the programme was being taken off the air, with all filming and broadcasts suspended.

The show was first broadcast as part of ITV’s morning schedule in 2005 and has been massively popular ever since. It attracted more than a million viewers for every episode. Its critics say that its popularity and the huge advertising income it generated protected it from attacks by a growing number of people concerned for the welfare of those who took part. They accused it not only of subjecting its participants to an undignified and demeaning experience, but also of manufacturing arguments between the participants.

Another reality programme on ITV that has come in for growing criticism is the hugely popular Love Island. Two of its participants – Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis – committed suicide sometime after they took part in the show.

Damian Collins, the Conservative chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said cancelling Kyle was the right decision but it should not be “the end of the matter”. The inquiry will investigate the support offered to reality TV participants and consider whether formats put unfair psychological pressure on guests in order to encourage extreme reactions.

Since the suicide of Mr Dymond several former production staff have come forward to describe the way vulnerable guests were treated. Some said they were given too much alcohol and encouraged to confront people who were routinely described as “love cheats” and relatives. I once had a conversation with a make-up artist from the show who told me it was not uncommon for guests who had been promised they could spend the night before the show in a hotel in Manchester to be telephoned at the last minute and told they would instead be collected by car on the morning of their appearance – even if they lived a couple of hundred miles away. By the time they arrived at the studio they would be desperately tired and even more vulnerable to whatever awaited them.

In 2007 a judge described the show as “human bear-baiting” in the trial of a man who was convicted of assaulting someone on the set.

ITV’s defence of the show had been that the people who agreed to appear on it did so willingly and many of them might actually benefit from the experience. They also suggested that the vast majority of its critics were not those who watched it but were intellectual snobs. That defence was voiced in the Daily Mirror by Katie Glass. She wrote that when she watched the show she did not see a “feral underclass”. She wrote: “I saw people I know. I saw real life, which is messy, dysfunctional and chaotic, which does not always come out in well-informed sentences, memoirs or documentaries made by people with posh accents for radio 4.”

Carla Wright, a freelance director and producer who had worked on the Trisha Show, took the opposite view in The Guardian. She described how, on one occasion, two women clashed and one managed to pull a handful of hair from the other’s scalp. She wrote: “Aftercare was minimal, just a quick chat with a counsellor after the show. Occasionally people would call us after filming and beg us not to broadcast. I don’t remember any show being pulled for this reason…. One day history will judge these programmes and we will wonder that they were still on the air in 2019. I’m glad time’s up for Jeremy Kyle. I’m just so sorry it took a death to have this conversation.”

What’s your view? Was ITV’s decision to dump Kyle the right one? Do you agree that the problem is not so much what happens on screen and the effect on the audience, but what happens to the participants after the programmes have been recorded? Or do you accept the argument that people who have had dysfunctional lives are entitled to have an outlet to express their frustrations and that shows like Kyle’s should not be banned. And what about Love Island?

Let us know your views.