Kyle heads to US with 'human form of bear baiting'

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The Independent Culture

It was once described by a British judge as a “human form of bear baiting” due to its toxic combination of lie-detector tests, seething family feuds and an irascible presenter seemingly intent on causing trouble.

Now, The Jeremy Kyle Show is set to be unleashed on unsuspecting audiences in the US, in the hope that its confrontational host will overtake Jerry Springer and become the king of daytime television.

The programme, which has recorded more than 1,000 episodes and is currently the most widely-watched daytime show on British television, is owned by ITV. The company’s production arm, ITV Studios, has signed a deal with producer-distributor Debmar-Mercury to bring it to the US.

The announcement was made this morning in Las Vegas at the annual conference of the National Association of Television Program Executives, where the two companies hope to attract the interest of US broadcasters. A series of programmes will be recorded later this year, and will be screened in 2011.

“I’m really excited to be working with ITV Studios and Debmar-Mercury in the USA to recreate the success of the UK show stateside,” Kyle said. “I’m particularly looking forward to meeting ordinary American people and hearing about their extraordinary lives. This show isn’t about me – it’s about their issues and problems and how we can face them together, with complete honesty and openness, in front of US audiences.”

The 44-year-old presenter, who lives in Berkshire, will continue to make the UK version of the show and has no plans to move to the US permanently. Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein, co-presidents of Debmar-Mercury, said they were certain that American audiences would “wholeheartedly embrace” Kyle because he brought a “unique sensibility to a proven format”.

Marcus added: “We believe there’s a market for it if he can hit the right tone for this country. It’s so rare that you get to try out a new show with somebody who has done this kind of TV a thousand times before.”

Michael Wolff, a media commentator for Vanity Fair magazine, said he suspected the US version of the show would be a “huge hit”. He said: “It has a very good shot. Anything that combines aspects of reality TV and isn’t too expensive to produce pretty much defines something that has a massive chance of success in the US market. It’s the kind of format that’s been successful here before – and nobody ever seems to go broke adapting a British format.”

Since launching in 2005, The Jeremy Kyle Show has steadily grown in popularity, increasing its share of the ratings every year. It currently attracts about 1.8 million viewers. Much like the equally successful Jerry Springer Show, guests are invited to hammer out their problems – usually involving their partner or other members of their family – and are interrogated by Kyle in front of a live studio audience, who are able to advise or criticise as they see fit.

The show also features provocative or outrageous titles to entice viewers, of which past examples include: “My husband slept with my daughter”, “My sister’s a teenage prostitute” and “I’m not a liar, I’ll prove I slept with your boyfriend”.

In some cases, participants are asked to prove they are telling the truth by taking a lie detector test, while male guests can also be DNA tested if the paternity of a child is in doubt. The results are then revealed on air.

The show gained notoriety in 2007, when a security guard called David Staniforth became the first person to be convicted of assault on a British talk show after headbutting his love rival Larry Mahoney, a bus driver, during an argument on stage.

After fining Staniforth £300 and ordering him to pay £60 costs, District Judge Alan Berg declared: “It seems to me that the whole purpose of The Jeremy Kyle Show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people who are in some kind of turmoil.

“It is for no more and no less than titillating members of the public who have nothing better to do with their mornings than sit and watch this show, which is a human form of bear baiting which goes under the guise of entertainment. The people responsible for this, namely the producers, should in my opinion be in the dock with you, Mr Staniforth.”

Following the judge’s comments, the show’s government-backed sponsors Ufi, which runs the adult education service Learndirect, cancelled its £500,000-a-year deal.