Television Review

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The Independent Culture
I WAS ALL but physically sick after yesterday's Kilroy (BBC1). The topic under debate was "My mum thinks she knows best". Two shrill strawberry blondes from Liverpool slugged it out for an interminable 45 minutes, and probably destroyed their relationship for good. The programme won't mind about that, though. Robert Kilroy-Silk conceded that it may have been a mistake to have them on the show, but only because they baulked at divulging the true source of their enmity. He winked at the camera and said he'd find out later, which is a fat lot of use. If you're going to send an endoscope into people's queasy lives, at least remember to switch the searchlight on.

Is there room in the sardine can for yet another daytime talk show? The makers of Kilroy have concluded that the audience consists of schadenfreude junkies, viewers who gawp at other people's emotional quandaries and moral entanglements like drivers slowing down to gawp at car crashes. Calculating that the appetite for voyeurism is dwindling, Kaye (weekdays BBC2) has arrived on the scene like the caped crusader, offering a tour of human folly and distress which doesn't make you want to wash your soul out with soap after half an hour in its company.

The format is designed to guide, enlighten, improve, above all, to help. Each programme addresses the dilemma of an individual guest, handpicked to personify a contemporary dilemma. Expert witnesses are invited to give informed advice based on personal experience of a similar situation. It might be about workaholicism, jealousy, stepchildren, teenage weight, or any of the other usual suspects. One or two programmes have veered towards Grand Guignol. I found myself squirming during the "You're a transvestite but your ex-wife won't let you see your children unless you dress as a man" debate. But just about anyone would find at least one of the dilemmas covered to be something they'd recognise as their own.

This week there was a typical mix of topics, some of more practical value than others. There was a useful debate about the ethics of smacking your children, a show about the pitfalls of glamour modelling, but also a couple of programmes on issues concerning the elderly. A woman of 60 asked, "Should I marry a man who doesn't light my fire?", which is not a dilemma most of us would recognise. But the "Do I put my father-in-law in a home?" debate could be sent out as an information pack to anyone caring for an aged parent.

The great strength of the show is that it has managed - quite unlike talk shows, which pitilessly stir up antagonism among their guests - to tap into a rich seam of public articulateness, much of it liberal and middle-class, but by no means all. It's a debating chamber, in short; not a baiting chamber. As Kaye comes to the end of its initial run, anyone who likes to season their diet of publicly spilled guts with a spoonful of Samaritan rectitude can only hope that it gets a second series. In the mean-time, are you gay and isolated? Call Kilroy now. The show is looking for more dummies to display in its shop window.