LIONEL Shriver has condemned British TV for patronising its audience and broadcasting an endless diet of property and weight-loss programmes and cruel game shows.
The best-selling author of We Need to Talk About Kevin said BBC 1 and BBC 2, ITV, Channel 4 and Five were all guilty of underestimating viewers.
Shriver, who won the Orange Prize in 2005, said the public "deserve better than programmes like How to Look Good Naked and How Clean Is Your House?".
The American-born author of eight novels said programmes had deteriorated dramatically since she moved to Britain 20 years ago.
And Shriver, 50, condemned game shows that "create cruelty and humiliation", endless reruns of Friends, weight-loss programmes, a "lunatic profusion of British property shows" and "the worst of American exports".
She added of the BBC: "I really resent paying my money for nothing but property shows that you don't want to watch."
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Shriver said: "It used to be that the contrast between engaging British television and the trash on American TV was shocking. Now the similarity is shocking.
"The biggest mistake contemporary television makes is to patronise the viewers. Your viewers are smarter, more sophisticated, and more hungry for real information than you might think."
Shriver said UK news programmes were "streets ahead of their American counterparts" which air more pharmaceutical adverts than current affairs, but British TV was guilty of turning to the US for inspiration.
New and challenging programmes had been sacrificed for "bloated sagas" on Paris Hilton's jail sentence, the trials of OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson, and Diana's death.
Citing a raft of programmes on the princess which have been broadcast since her death, Shriver said Diana's death "has been a television crutch".
"In order to make it a good story, insinuations have been made for which there is little evidence," she said.
"'Popular princess dies in car crash'. It's a sad story, but as an entire plot for a documentary or film I wouldn't give 10p for it."
Of coverage of the disaappearance of Madeleine McCann, she added: "'Girl disappears, the end', is once again a sad story in real life, but as fiction it's a lousy story. We need a villain. We must damn this poor man [Robert Murat, the only official suspect] for having a basement and a four-year-old daughter.
"When you are a fiction writer you recognise these as very useful. You plant them in a book perhaps as red herrings ... That's all very well to do in a book but this is real life.
"This poor man has had his life ruined. His reputation will never be the same. A cloud of suspicion will always hang over him."
Shriver called for "restraint", saying saturation coverage of the Virginia Tech and Columbine high school killings could spark "copycat crimes".
The author said she was now unable "to find anything that merits turning on the set" and that the main channels were now constantly copying each other.
She said: "TV in this country seems to have moved downstairs. When I was raised in the US, I was brought up to revere British TV.
"I long associated British TV with quality. I have lived in the UK for 20 years and during that time I have seen that quality deteriorate."
She dismissed the notion that if people did not like what was on TV they would switch off, saying: "To a point they will want what you make them want. People watch what's on TV.
"Ultimately producers and executives have the power; if you look at the schedule you can't change that."
SPEND ON NEWS, SAYS SWEENEY
JOHN Sweeney, the BBC Panorama reporter who famously lost his temper in an on-screen shouting match with the Church of Scientology, yesterday urged the corporation to close its digital channels rather than prune its budget for current affairs.
The outspoken reporter said: "BBC current affairs is a pale shadow of what it used to be. And now the BBC is talking of further cuts. Stop it... It would be better to close down BBC 3 or BBC 4 than impose more cuts to current affairs."
Sweeney said halting the 600 million move of several major BBC departments to Salford would be preferable to cutting funding for programmes like The Money Programme and Horizons.
The issue of BBC budgets was raised at a number of sessions at yesterday's closing day of the Edinburgh Television Festival.
John Whittingdale, Tory MP and head of parliament's culture and media select committee, said he was sceptical about BBC claims of a "funding gap".
But Jana Bennett, BBC director of television, said news was at the heart of the BBC's offering. She rejected claims that Panorama had "dumbed down".