Since the early nineties, mid-morning reality TV has been something of an obsession for many Brits. From Jerry Springer to Vanessa, Trisha to Kilroy, our desire to find out who had cheated on their neighbour – or who has a drug problem – has meant these shows have been a consistent fixture on our screens.
Now The Jeremy Kyle Show has been suspended following the death of a guest shortly after he appeared on the programme. ITV has wiped the show from its online back catalogue. And there are calls for the programme to be axed for good.
The controversy around Jeremy Kyle is nothing new. The shouting and screaming and fractious arguments on the show, presented for our titillation, have been a concern for some time. There is no doubt the show was entertaining. But what about those who took part? Were their lives really any better as a result of appearing? It would be hard to think so.
But while the tragic death of a participant on the programme has brought this debate to the fore, it would be a mistake to direct our anger solely at Jeremy Kyle and his producers. The show is the most watched programme on ITV’s daytime schedule, pulling in an average of a million viewers. Its endurance – more than 3,000 episodes have been broadcast – shows that while many might turn their noses up at the programme, it remains wildly popular.
Our desire for reality TV has, it seems, led us down a dark and twisted path where a programme on which contestants are mocked by viewers based on their class, background and looks, remains such a huge draw.
For now, ITV has done the right thing suspending the show. An MP who has spoken out in the past about his mental health has called for the programme to finish for good. Charles Walker said it would be ‘extremely sensible’ if ITV called time on the show’. Labour MP Julie Elliott agreed. She said: ‘I have grave concerns, and have had for some time, about the way shows like The Jeremy Kyle Show appear to exploit the most vulnerable in society. The production of this show has been rightly suspended and I think it is time to end the show once and for all.’
They are both right. Is this the final straw for The Jeremy Kyle Show and other similar formats? Let’s hope so.