By cancelling The Jeremy Kyle Show, ITV has accepted it must move with the times
News Analysis: The broadcaster is already under the microscope following the death by suicide of two people who had participated in Love Island
Much remains unclear about what exactly occurred between Steve Dymond failing a lie detector test during filming for the show, and his subsequent suicide. Still, it is safe to presume that what ITV bosses unearthed during their enquiries in recent days led them to conclude there is no way back for ubiquitous daytime show.
They will have been very aware too that the eyes of the rest of the media were on them – and that there was little evidence of sympathy towards the show’s producers, or its star.
Some of the criticism may have come with a hint of tabloid hypocrisy; but from where ITV chiefs are sitting, that would not have reduced the discomfort of seeing their show all over newspaper front pages.
What’s more, ITV has already found itself under the microscope with regard to the care afforded to contestants on another of its cult programmes, Love Island. Two individuals have taken their own lives after appearing on that show. Ditching Kyle straight away might have been a way to head off broader questions about whether the broadcaster is fulfilling its duty of care to the people who appear on its programmes.
Of course, plenty will argue that The Jeremy Kyle Show and Love Island are very different beasts, and that’s true – up to a point. But they both appear to depend on the involvement of vulnerable people who want to be on TV for five minutes of fame, and who for the most part are happy to act spicily for the cameras. They are not as unalike as all that.
Certainly ITV will be under pressure to show it is taking concerns about Love Island as seriously as it has done with regard to Kyle if the former is not to end up on the cutting room floor as well.
We have been here before though. It is not long ago that shows like The X Factor (and its predecessors, notably Pop Idol) were as much about laughing at the terrible performers as they were about praising the good ones. The prospect of some old duffer going toe to toe with Louis Walsh after being told he sounded like a dying whale was too tempting for producers to resist. Audiences may have lapped it up, but critics regularly complained about the potential impact on contestants’ mental health.
In response, The X Factor has patently dialled down the cartoonish criticism, and less frequently gives the most hopeless chancers an airing. Britain’s Got Talent appears to have undertaken a similar journey, to use the vernacular.
Given this backdrop, and with Love Island already under pressure to give more consideration to the vulnerabilities of its contestants, it is easy to see The Jeremy Kyle Show as an unsalvageable throwback. Out of step with attempts to modernise ITV’s scheduling, the tragedy is that it took the death of a participant to bring the programme’s grimness into sufficiently sharp focus for something serious to be done.
Some will doubtless say all this is political correctness gone mad – the contrarian backlash will probably start within 48 hours. And Jeremy Kyle may yet find a home for his brand of public humiliation elsewhere.
But ITV’s decisive action ought to give us hope that making entertainment and profit out of real people’s real problems is off the agenda of mainstream TV makers for good.