Reality TV probe as Kyle show is cancelled

Loveless Island: Contestants Jess Shears and Dominic Lever (left) appear with Jeremy Kyle on Good Morning Britain

MPs are to probe the reality TV industry after the suspected suicide of a guest who was publicly humiliated for lying on the Jeremy Kyle Show. A judge has called it “human bear-baiting”.

MPs announced yesterday that there would be a formal inquiry into British reality TV, including public hearings about mental health support offered to participants.

They will look at whether certain programmes place unfair psychological pressure on participants, and encourage more extreme behaviour. The recent suicides of the former Love Island contestants Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon will be part of the inquiry.

After running for 15 years and producing more than 3,000 episodes, The Jeremy Kyle Show has now been wiped from the internet. Its YouTube archive featuring more than 10,000 clips has been deleted, while its Facebook page with over 1.3m followers has vanished, along with its Twitter account.

The show was suspended indefinitely by ITV on Monday, following the death of a participant, 63-year-old Steve Dymond, a week after a programme featuring him was filmed.

This is nothing more than “a human form of bear-baiting”, said Alan Berg, a district judge who sentenced a man who head-butted his love rival during filming. “It’s whole purpose is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people, who are in some kind of turmoil.”

Orchestrated misery?

The defenders of reality TV make three points. First, a defence of pop culture in general. Who has the right to tell people what they ought to enjoy? Second, a defence of the artistry and skill of the reality TV makers, whose elaborately contrived concoctions have been compared to Mozart operas. Third, an anti-censorship point. Let people decide, not self-appointed moral guardians.

The attackers take a more specific angle. Society must ban anything that smacks of exploitation or cruelty. Victorian freak shows would be unacceptable today. So should laughing at vulnerable people in emotional pain.

You Decide

  1. Which reality TV shows would you agree to appear on, if any?

Activities

  1. Invent your own reality TV format. Write a one-page proposal to ITV for a new series that could replace The Jeremy Kyle Show. (Remember, they will be looking for something less controversial right now.)

Some People Say...

“These programs can be really, really compelling. Trash can be really good at what it does. Let’s face it: not everything is a Henry James novel.”

Robert Thompson, professor and pop culture expert

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Following the death of Steve Dymond, who appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show last week, ITV has cancelled the programme, and also deleted its online presence. There will be an inquiry into British reality TV, looking at the mental health support offered to participants.
What do we not know?
Is this the end of reality TV? Will the inquiry make it harder for ordinary people to appear on TV? Reality TV is cheap to make — so, how much will TV makers really spend on psychological support for contestants?

Word Watch

Formal inquiry
MP Damian Collins said he will be part of a formal inquiry into the British reality TV programme industry.
Victorian freak shows
The exhibition of people considered to be freaks or marvels of nature were part of travelling shows in Europe and America, in Victorian times.