Tuesday 25 June 2019

Colman Hutchinson: 'In defence of Jeremy Kyle: he genuinely cared about the people on his TV show'

The controversial television host is talented and took his job seriously, writes Colman Hutchinson

VILIFIED: Jeremy Kyle’s show is credited by actress Danniella Westbrook with saving her life
VILIFIED: Jeremy Kyle’s show is credited by actress Danniella Westbrook with saving her life

Colman Hutchinson

So The Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled permanently and now the snob brigade are out in force to vilify both Kyle and the programme.

I completely understand that the death of one of the participants is indeed a tragic event and needs to be investigated, but let's not condemn the man until all the evidence has been gathered and we discover the truth behind this very sad event.

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I worked with Jeremy Kyle a few years back, producing a game show in Manchester which he hosted. He was also hosting The Jeremy Kyle Show at the same time. I got to see him in action and saw behind the scenes at this ratings winner.

I was struck with how he was held in such high esteem by his fans and the participants in the show. They absolutely loved him. The reason for this, I believe, is that the people who take part in the show are not exactly society's winners - in fact, quite the opposite, they are seen as losers, unemployed, poor and deeply troubled in many cases.

They are a section of the community many people would rather not think about. They are not the sort of people that you would normally see on television. But The Jeremy Kyle Show gave them a voice, a platform - even though in most cases the stories they had to tell were sad, tragic and deeply upsetting.

Drug addiction, gambling, infidelity and having children with multiple partners were all regular topics featured on the show, along with lie detector and DNA tests.

Most of us could think of nothing worse than washing our dirty linen in such an extremely public way.

But for the people on The JK Show, they were being taken seriously and somebody seemed to care about their lives. They were, for a short period of time, not invisible. In fact they were actually minor celebrities for a little while.

This recognition was important to them and far preferable to being ignored by society. Is it such an awful thing to want to be heard, to have your shot at being somebody and maybe getting yourself on to a better road.

Nobody was forced to go on, they made up their own minds about appearing on it. Let's not forget that some very good things also happened.

People were given the chance to go into rehab, which was paid for by the production, and this opportunity helped to turn the lives around of many who appeared.

Actress Danniella Westbrook credits The Jeremy Kyle Show with saving her life. She says that without the support of Jeremy Kyle she would be in the grave.

During the period I spent working with Jeremy, I had dinner many times with him and Graham Stanier, the psychotherapist on the show. We talked a lot about the show and I was struck with how seriously they took the job.

They understood they were walking a tightrope and understood things could go horribly wrong, but they genuinely cared about the people and their wish was for people to sort out their problems and hopefully have a better life after the programme.

Of course they knew that this was not going to be the case with the majority of cases, but that was the motive. Yes they understood that the show had to entertain, because if the viewers weren't entertained, they would turn off and there would be no show.

Jeremy is a very talented TV host and he played the part of ringmaster with great skill. He guided it through all the various emotions: sad, happy, tragic, funny. I understand that some people feel uncomfortable with this type of programme, but in the same way as nobody was forced to appear, nobody was making them watch it.

However, in excess of a million people did watch it every day, making it the most popular show on daytime television for 14 years. Are all these viewers to be criticised for taking pleasure in watching the troubled lives of so many people unfolding in front of their eyes?

Jerry Springer did a similar show in the US for 27 years, and when asked why he felt his show was so popular he said: "Because it's the American Dream at it's purest. The thing that makes America unique is that it was founded on an idea.

"And that idea was that everyone gets the same shot, whatever their religion, colour, sex, birthplace, parentage, anything. That's why they love my show, because anyone can enter and they all get a shot."

I think the same could be said of The Jeremy Kyle Show. Anybody and everybody got a shot and had a chance of being important, even for a short time.

I accept that appearing on any reality TV show does come with possible downsides. There has been a lot of talk about Love Island, another hugely popular show that has been accused of messing with people's lives, and two past contestants have apparently committed suicide, though whether these tragic deaths are linked to the programme is not known.

There are lots of things we do in life that have downsides: smoking, drinking, eating the wrong food. But nobody is forcing us to do these things, and we would not be happy if these things were banned.

Without The Jeremy Kyle Show, all the people who took part will not go away, but they will once again be invisible and those of us with, shall we say, snobbish tendencies will not have to be confronted in our living rooms by those awful people and that odious Mr Kyle.

However, I can guarantee you a lot of the snobs were often lured to watch the show and stuck with it just a little longer, to see the result of the lie detector or DNA test and find out if Joe really had been cheating on his girlfriend with three other women. They just wouldn't mention it to their friends.

Colman Hutchinson is a former TV producer and creative director of Boxatricks

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