This assignment aims to determine how real or authentic reality television shows are, using the Jeremy Kyle Show as the case study. Reality TV is highly entertaining and consequently among the most popular television formats of recent years. However, there have been debates regarding their authenticity and validity. This assignment will illustrate the Jeremy Kyle Show format, cast selection mode, intended audience and emotional high points. It will also discuss the various associated controversies leading to its cancellation. The assignment will prove that although the guests’ background stories are real, the show is primarily designed and geared towards entertainment of the audience and dramatises topics rather than drawing attention to real issues.
Reality TV has become one of the most successful and frequently used TV formats in the entertainment industry, with 39% of TV viewers watching some sort of reality TV (One Poll, 2019). Its popularity has been attributed to its versatile and diverse nature, since reality TV shows can be based on any topic and permeates a range of social spheres, including the domestic one (Gater and McDonald, 2015; Hall, 2009). However, accusations of “scripted reality” have made the validity of many reality TV shows doubtful (One Poll, 2019).
Furthermore, despite increasing popularity, the exact nature and impact of reality TV is a topic of intense debates, which have culminated in several official inquiries by Parliament this year (Duell and Curtis, 2019). Supporters of reality television argue that reality TV shows portray real issues and democratises TV and offers opportunity for authentic discourse (Woods and Skeggs, 2008; Hall, 2006; Nabi et al., 2006). Also, viewers of reality TV may identify with what they see and apply the derived lessons to their own lives. Additionally, reality TV is a representation of today’s performative culture where society uses language to effect change.
However, critics have listed reality TV’s negative implications. Weiland and Dunbar (2016) argue that reality TV has effectively blurred the line between real situations and fictional programming. Additionally, Kitman (2009) noted that participants, while having a real background story, are usually trained to act in a specific manner – a necessary strategy, since real people are naturally not entertaining. This gives rise to what Kitman (2009) termed ‘enhanced reality”. Also, Gater and McDonald (2015) noted that reality show participants are “performing their character”. Moreover, the deaths of participants in popular shows like Love Island the Jeremy Kyle Show has led to multiple official inquiries in the House of Commons over reality TV producers’ failed responsibilities in safeguarding vulnerable participants (Duell and Curtis, 2019; Waterson, 2019).
The Jeremy Kyle Show was a tabloid talk show produced by ITV and presented by Jeremy Kyle. Its first edition was aired on 4 July 2005. Until 2019, a total of 16 series were aired on ITV. The program was eventually cancelled on 10 May 2019. In the course of its broadcast, the Jeremy Kyle Show ultimately reached an audience of 1 million viewers, making it the most popular program on ITV’s daily schedule (Waterson and Weaver, 2019).
The Jeremy Kyle Show was confrontational. The participants almost always knew each other in real life and attempted use the show to resolve private issues such as infidelity, addiction, family problems, sexual problems and romantic issues, among others (Alison, 2006). It also featured a psychotherapist to assist guest both during and after the program. The organisers frequently included a polygraph test to ‘verify’ the truth regarding guests’ claims.
Often, the guests found themselves in highly confrontational scenes coupled with the presenter’s verbal chastising. Such situations usually arose whenever Kyle had reasons to believe that the guest had acted irresponsibly or in a morally dubious manner in real life. At times, such confrontation prompted the guest to display high levels of distress and anger. The program’s confrontational nature made it highly controversial, with one judge describing the show as a ‘human bear-baiting’ program (Smith, 2007). Despite ITV’s consistent denial that guests were misled or mistreated, the Jeremy Kyle show was eventually cancelled in 2019 following the death of a guest (Waterson and Weaver, 2019).
The Jeremy Kyle Show was aired in the form of a tabloid talk show. While many talk shows are considered scripted, the Jeremy Kyle Show was one of few exemptions, projecting a sense of reality that was largely non-fictional and based on real cases of challenges and issues facing real people in their daily lives. Nevertheless, although the program was based on real cases, the show’s format was modelled in a way where character differences between guests were sometimes overemphasised and problems exacerbated rather than deescalated. Therefore, the show’s main purpose was not to depict reality but to present people’s problems in a way that ensured viewers’ enjoyment.
Additionally, the Jeremy Kyle Show also had certain features of self-improvement reality TV – a format designed to assist people in overcoming personal struggles or achieving goals. Participants of Jeremy Kyle Show strived to obtain solutions to specific issues they are having with other people. Thus, the program claimed to offer a platform through which guests can overcome struggles and consequently accomplish their goals in their private lives.
The Jeremy Kyle Show used a number of methods of selection including social media advertising such as through their Facebook page to contact the production team via Facebook or Facebook messenger (Freedman, 2019). At times, the show targeted people who wanted to take lie detector and DNA tests (Freedman, 2019). All guests participating in the show had personal problems. Thus, every episode featured guests that discussed their issues with the presenter.
While reality TV is generally aimed at viewers of all backgrounds, the nature of the Jeremy Kyle Show and its participants’ backgrounds make it safe to assume that the show was mainly aimed at the white working class. Moreover, there are indications of the show being particularly appealing to the housewives with children, explaining why most of the advertisement campaigns targeted this demographic group (McCabe, 2019).
The participants’ academic background often did not seem to include any formal tertiary education. Also, the show did not elicit much reflection or justification from the viewers, which is a hallmark for working class viewership of reality TV (Skeggs, Thumim and Woods, 2008). The participants’ background educational background also facilitated their manipulation and humiliation by the show’s organisers, which was the show’s main entertainment factor. Woods and Skeggs (2008) pointed out that reality TV often highlight dysfunction caused by the working class’s failure to adhere to middle class norms.
Since the working class makes up a broad spectrum of the public, the show can best be described as a mass-audience program. Furthermore, the fact that the show did not require any special interests, and was relatable to everyone who has experienced personal issues, made it openly accessible to everyone else as well, irrespective of class, gender and race.
Participants of the Jeremy Kyle Show were not likely to become celebrities, since they were mainly exposed for personal problems with their fellow humans rather than for their likeable personal characteristics. Rather, the main celebrity of the show was the host. Instead of making one a celebrity, the show tended to portray guests as a villain, victim or a clown. Therefore, the show had the potential to define one’s life negatively, especially those guests that were vulnerable and emotionally weak. In summary, the Jeremy Kyle Show lacked the potential to make anyone a celebrity.
Emotional high points in the show were mostly at the expense of the guests. They included emotional confrontations between loved ones and rivals, shocking revelations about their private lives in front of the audience, humiliations of the guests by the presenter, the audience or other guests, and dramatised interventions by the presenter and the organisers such as the revelations of a lie detector test result or fatherhood result. In some cases, there have been physical altercations during the show. This manipulative approach, which is very common among reality shows, has led to criticism and controversy and ultimately led to the cancellation of the show (Duell and Curtis, 2019).
As already pointed out, there were various controversies associated with the Jeremy Kyle Show. It was these controversies that prompted one judge to describe the show as a “human bear-baiting” program during the trial of a guest that assaulted another person in the course of the show (Smith, 2007). The first controversy involves the producers and presenters of the program, who were accused of manipulation, exploitation, neglect, and dereliction of duty toward guests. For instance, Jeremy Kyle was notorious for being highly judgmental. He used to react angrily and very hostile to guests he believed have misbehaved.
Secondly, there were doubts regarding the validity of the help, which the presenters and producers promised their guests. For instance, one professional psychotherapist that was employed for the show was quoted as saying that the audience ratings were more important than the show’s ability to solve the issues confronting the guests (Smith, 2007). It was also reported that the team in charge of the production at times encouraged the guests to react angrily to one another (Scott, 2007). There have been regular incidents of relatives or friends storming the stage upon hearing what the guest said. This clearly showed that the producers and television network were more interested in entertaining audience than solving guests’ problems.
Another significant source of controversy was the use of the polygraph in determining whether guests were lying or not. However, the reliability of this tool as a lie detector has not yet been established conclusively (Synnott et al., 2015). This is the major reasons why most countries have refused to cite it as a source of legal evidence in the law court. Consequently, the use of such an unreliable tool in the show could be term fraudulent. It also confirmed the argument that the producers are much more interested in entertaining the audience than solving the problems that confront the guests.
Even though participants in the program gave their consent to be filmed and aired on the television network, the above-stated controversies clearly showed that the producers and presenter appeared not to have the best interest of their guests in mind. It is quite evident that potential participants have no idea how to assess the risks. Furthermore, for the show to remain entertaining and sustainable, the producers required steady inflow of unhappy people, many of whom are vulnerable. The producers also provoke extreme reactions from the guests without even considering the implication of such action on the mental health of the participant. A notable case is that of Steve Dymond, who despite the unreliability of the lie detector may have experienced the hostile reactions of the Jeremy Kyle. Human weakness tends to be the primary factor fuelling Reality TV shows like that of Jeremy Kyle. Thus, the program was primarily erected to mine such inadequacies. The situation is further compounded by the producer’s perception that mass entertainment ought to be prurient in order to be genuine.
Moreover, the fact that the program’s entertainment value was based on the emotionally exhaustion of the guests eventually led to a suicide. Despite the available counselling and physiotherapy support, several participants remained highly vulnerable after the show due to the confrontational nature of the program. A dramatic peak occurred in May 2019 after one of the guests named Steve Dymond committed suicide, just ten days after appearing on the show. During the show, Steve Dymond failed a lie detector test, which was meant to convince her fiancée that he had been faithful to her (Mohid and Waterson, 2019). The couple split after the show, a development that prompted Dymond to commit suicide. This development confirmed that the show revolves around potential humiliation of guests, some of who may be battling some difficulties like depression and addiction. This incident forced ITV not to air that episode and the show was cancelled entirely, followed by an investigation by parliament, which Kyle, the presenter did not attend, however (Parliament, 2019).
The authenticity of the Jeremy Kyle Show can be analysed by applying the theory of social constructionism. According to Baran and Davis (2012), this theory is based on the postulation that every experience of reality is part of ongoing social construction in which all humans have some degree of responsibility. This theory states that the experience of reality cannot be transmitted by a sole elite or authority, but is a product of shared experience by social actors.
In line with the social constructionist theory, Tolson (2013) pointed out that reality is negotiated by equals through bi-directional communication. However, the Jeremy Kyle does not aim to depict reality but rather uni-directionally constructs a particular version of reality and its objects in accordance to a specific institutionalised truth regime (Tolson, 2013). This truth regime is determined by the reality show organisers, who decide what is acceptable conduct and what is not, and who is right and who is wrong. Therefore, the show does not represent reality but rather a form of programming.
Another problem is the problem of silencing in the Jeremy Kyle Show. Performativity refers to language that could act as social action, and that can trigger the effect of change (Butler, 2010). According to Butler (1997), performative cannot be used effectively where speech is silenced. But in Reality TV shows, editing silences the participants’ speech. The conception of performativity also shows that the Jeremy Kyle program is not actually real, but rather staged.
Another example of the disconnect with reality in the Jeremy Kyle Show is the use of the polygraph, despite well-known evidence regarding the lack of accuracy of lie detectors. The producers even later admitted that dozens of their lie detector results were false (Ball, 2019). Also, the presenter himself was accused of treating his guests “with a false mateyness” (Smith, 2007). These few examples clearly show that the real situation is actually being distorted just to impress the audience.
Lastly, many guests expressed criticism regarding the show’s authenticity. One guest of the Jeremy Kyle show claimed that the presenter hardly cares about the people’s feeling and conditions (Cadwalladr, 2008). Another guest interviewed by Cadwalladr (2008) stated that he was there “under false pretences” and that the show was “completely the opposite of what I was told it would be”. These examples show that those in charge of the TV program were actually in control of what should be aired for the audience. This also explains why in many cases, the guests were unable to resolve the issue that brought them to the program.
In conclusion, this essay revealed that the Jeremy Kyle Show does not depict reality. Although the participants and their background story are real, the show is primarily designed to entertain the audience. The producers and presenters were accused of manipulation, neglect, and dereliction of duty toward the guest. The validity of the so-call help offered to guests was also doubtful. There are clear evidences that the producers and presenter are more interested in making the show more entertaining than helping their guests. This postulation is fully supported by applying the concept of social constructionism and performativity, but subject to a truth regime by the organisers and silencing through the editing process, all of which further cast doubts on its authenticity. Regarding the show’s controversies, it was seen that the show thrived off confrontations between participants instead of de-escalating tensions. All this confirms the argument that the Jeremy Kyle program is not real, but rather staged and manipulated.