The Jeremy Kyle Show ran for 14 years, beginning in 2005 and ending in 2019. In total, 3,320 episodes were aired and it was popular with many viewers of daytime television.
According to ITV, the show was a platform for “conflict resolution” but its host Jeremy Kyle was no counsellor. He was a TV host whose career had begun on radio and not in any form of therapy. His privileged upbringing (his mother once worked for the Queen Mother) was far different to that of the guests who featured on his show.
As such, Kyle was the wrong person for the job but that didn’t seem to bother the showrunners of The Jeremy Kyle Show. His ‘shouty’ style brought in 1 million regular viewers who tuned in to see him berate, belittle, and shame those who dared to sit on one of his famous sofas.
Each day, new guests were brought onto the show, most of them from working-class and impoverished backgrounds, and many of them dealing with drug and alcohol issues, relationship problems, and in some cases, struggles with their mental health. One previous guest had committed suicide after being on the show in 2015 but that didn’t come to light until 2019 when Steve Dymond, another guest, also killed himself after his relationship fell apart following his appearance on the programme.
It was Dymond’s death that brought about the cancellation of the show but in truth, it should have ended many years before. As the Channel 4 documentary highlights, there had been concerns about the psychological carnage the show created long before Steve died.
The fault of this was largely down to Kyle himself who regularly roared in his guest’s faces, calling them “scum” and telling them to “do one” whenever they dared to defend themselves. But the studio audience, who laughed and jeered along with Kyle, can also be held to blame, as can the show’s producers who allegedly cared less about the support these people needed and more about viewing figures.
During the documentary, footage is shown of a filmed reality show enquiry where one of the Jeremy Kyle bosses is called to account for the show’s failings. He tries, unconvincingly, to excuse the nature of the show by talking about the ‘positive’ help guests received before, during and after their appearances, but in the end, much like Jeremy Kyle’s sneering comments of contempt, it’s mostly just empty talk.
Members of the show’s production team are interviewed for the documentary and they reveal the lack of care the guests received. The testimony of a cameraman is also used to shed light on the horrible way guests were treated. He, like many of the production team, was left mentally scarred by his experiences on the programme and, as is revealed on the documentary, one member of the team took their own life, weighed down by the guilt over their involvement in Steve Dymond’s (unaired) appearance on the show.
The documentary does an excellent job of exposing Jeremy Kyle and the people who validated him. Previous guests are interviewed and they reveal the lies they were fed to get them to appear on the programme. These are real people with real problems who were manipulated for the sake of ‘good television.’ It’s heartbreaking, as they needed kindness and care, and not the brutishness of Kyle’s vile and arrogant behaviour.
Shockingly, the documentary also reveals the failings of the lie detector tests that were a regular feature of the show. They were nowhere near as accurate as the show’s bosses claimed, which is frightening to learn, as many guests who proclaimed their innocence after being called a liar were probably speaking the truth. Steve Dymond was one of those people and his experiences led to his death.
The documentary is a harrowing watch. Through behind-the-scenes footage, we hear Kyle’s contempt for his guests when he calls them “thick as shit”. We see the devastation the show caused through interviews with those whose lives were damaged. Footage of a young woman who was addicted to heroin is shown being yelled at by Kyle while the clips of her grave reveal her fate. It’s enough to stir up the anger in any of us, which is ironic, as its the kind of anger the show’s bosses exploited for the sake of TV ratings.
If anything, the cancellation of the Jeremy Kyle show should remind us that this type of programme should not be repeated. It was a modern-day ‘freak show’ featuring people who weren’t freaks but who were victims of a society and government that failed to support their incredibly complicated needs.
How then, could ITV justify their claims to offer “conflict resolution” when they could do nothing but stick plasters over the gaping emotional wounds these people suffered with? Sadly, of course, the show mostly succeeded in opening up these wounds rather than healing them.
Verdict - 9/10