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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: UK TV

The Jeremy Kyle Show
Richard Crawley

The Jeremy Kyle Show is ITV1's flagship daytime program, attracting over one million viewers a day from a demographic once dominated by oompa-loompa faced David Dickinson and his 'talent' of plundering the cupboards of befuddled senior citizens in search of heirlooms to sell off at his auction house. Now though, four years after his show premiered in July of 2005, a new demigod of breakfast broadcasting has emerged.

Jeremy Kyle is the undisputed King of morning television and reigns supreme over his dominion with a well rehearsed confidence, sharp suit and seemingly endless procession of tearful, angry and broken guests waiting in the wings.
The King is dead. Long live the King.

Not everyone's a fan though. There have been allegations [most notably from a Manchester Judge after an on-air punch-up on led to a court case that the show amounts to little more than "human bear-baiting"; that Kyle purposefully exploits sensitive and potentially volatile situations for the sake of seedy, Punch And Judy-esque entertainment. Conversely, others have argued that the programme is merely an honest record of the social underclass in contemporary Britain and that to argue the content of The Jeremy Kyle Show is manufactured is akin to arguing with a mirror because you disagree with its reflection.

Indeed, some sociologists have hypothesised that the demographic traditionally associated with the show [typically the white lower-class] are currently undergoing a devolution; that, with the coming of benefits culture, free healthcare, processed food and numerous other benefits of capitalist democracy, these people have socially regressed to the point of being almost feral. It is, these researchers have argued, evidence of Darwinism in reverse; proof that, as the conditions of natural selection have relaxed and life has got better, people have gotten worse.
After this morning's episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show, I'm not sure I can disagree with them.

The topics of today's broadcast; each programme is based broadly around a certain theme - "Brother, are you my lover?" being my previous favourite- were ripe for bawdy entertainment. Some choice excerpts included the statement "You asked me to marry you on the Facebook you twat" and a bemusing paternity test wherein neither of the two potential parents dragged up on stage were revealed to be the biological father of two month old Stacee-Starr. This prompted Kyle to ask the child's sixteen year old mother [already pregnant with her second spawn] whether there may have been any other potential suitors.
"A few," came the not at all embarrassed response. At times like these, I felt like I was watching an old episode of Strike It Lucky rather than the paternity test of a two month old baby. Kyle soldiered on though, preaching responsibility and restraint as he went and offering the services of the shows aftercare team to anyone who wanted them.

Kyle's background is in local radio and this snake-oil-salesmanship shines through. He is less of a presenter and more of a narrator, guiding us seamlessly through the lives of the often wretched people brought up on stage. He does his best not to be patronising but, like all of us, is no angel and there are moments that cause him to lose his cool. One such instance occurred today when a woman whose husband had beaten her and caused her to miscarry could only offer the explanation that he did so because "she annoyed me, innit."

These moments are sobering and bleak; instantaneously snuffing out a little of one's faith in humankind and instilling a desire for the speedy return of capital punishment. They are also, one might argue, the dark heart at the core of the programme that keeps the viewing public coming back for more. Light, frothy melodrama about stolen sovereign rings might make up the bulk of the broadcast but these slivers of darkness are what make the show so enthralling to so many.

The Jeremy Kyle Show is perhaps a necessary evil. It's throwaway television done right; the production values are slick and aesthetic and Kyle himself is certainly never afraid to speak his mind. Undeniably the show is also, perhaps unintentionally at times, very humorous and this certainly helps with its charm. Despite this, whilst I have no doubt Kyle’s altruistic intentions are sincere, you can't help but feel that even he gets the impression that he's only putting plasters on a wound that needs an altogether different kind of healing.
© Richard Crawley Oct 19th 2009

Richard is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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