I recall back in the late 1990s, watching with what could only be described as open-mouthed amazement, the arrival of The Jerry Springer Show in the UK.
Probably like most people outside of the US, I’d never seen anything like it.
And I recall as a TV producer working in both London and Glasgow back then, everyone talking about this shocking new show from America. We’d all scratch our heads and ask each other ‘how could people go on the telly and say these things…do these things…behave like that?’
It was so alien to anything we had ever seen before that a common refrain was “Only in America”.
How naïve we were because very shortly afterwards, as ratings went through the roof, Springer was followed by more and more trans-Atlantic imports until inevitably the demand was created for us to have our very own “home-grown” variety.
Over the decades, there has been a seemingly insatiable public demand here in the UK for this type of reality-based factual entertainment television – those programmes which are designed to feed both our voyeuristic titillation and our faux-outrage in equal measure. But entirely predictably, the problem of this genre was always going to be that what was once considered shocking very quickly becomes routine.
And to keep the viewers’ attention, increasingly “scandalous” examples of human behaviour have to be unearthed and paraded on our screens so that those “shocked and appalled” viewers keep lapping it up.
From my admittedly very limited experience of shows like The Jeremy Kyle Show, it does seem this format often depends on exploiting people who appear quite vulnerable; people who, quite understandably, have no idea of the consequences of what being thrust onto national television and having their deepest personal failings exposed to the world will mean for their lives.
So sadly, in many ways a tragedy like that of the death of Steve Dymond, who we are told split-up from his fiancée just days after filming an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show, during which he apparently “failed” a lie-detector test, was almost inevitable.
And if I’m honest, the biggest surprise for me is that something like this hasn’t happened before now.
It is absolutely right the show has been cancelled. And I fully support calls for an urgent, independent review of the duty-of-care policies that are in place at The Jeremy Kyle Show and those programmes of a similar format.
The real test, however, of how seriously we take this issue will be in how quickly this show or something very similar returns to our screens and how many of us tune in to be shocked, outraged and appalled by the behaviour on display.
l Brendan O’Hara is the SNP culture and media spokesperson in the House of Commons. He has also worked as a TV producer