Forget Nasty Nick - now the viewer can do the manipulating

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The Independent Online

If you thought Big Brother was the most intrusive television programme ever made then prepare to think again.

If you thought Big Brother was the most intrusive television programme ever made then prepare to think again.

A new show, to be screened on ITV next month, aims to take the reality-based format further by allowing viewers to control the lives of the participants. After the success of the fly-on-the-wall programmes Castaway and Big Brother and the bullying tactics of The Weakest Link, Public Property aims to combine the two styles.

Six participants will hand over control of their lives for three months to television viewers and internet users who will vote on a series of choices aimed at improving their lives.

Those who are chosen to take part must be willing to change their lives and be happy to abide by decisions made for them. Viewers will decide on every detail - from what the contestants wear to whether they should go on a date.

They will be monitored by cameras and the footage will appear on a website and a daily television update. The eventual winner, who is the one judged to have made the most of the options they have been given, will be awarded a "freedom prize". This could range from money enabling them to go back to college or a chance to work abroad.

The show will be presented by Kaye Adams, currently presenter of the daytime ITV chat show Live Talk, who says the programme was intent on being constructive and was not designed to "mess people up".

A spokeswoman for Anglia Television, the maker of the show, said Public Property was not just about entertainment; it wanted to help people. But psychologists are already concerned at the new show, likely to be the first of several intended to push the boundaries of "reality television". Cynthia McVey, a psychologist and consultant to the BBC's Castaway 2000, said the show could make the participants too reliant on other people. "You might develop a learnt helplessness. As regards giving up their normal life, I wonder how informed they are about how they will feel about it. In my experience people don't really know how they will feel until they are involved."

Roy Bailey, a consultant psychologist who specialises in social behaviour, said the programme was pushing at the fine line between viewing and voyeurism that had already been broken by Big Brother.

"There could be a risk for the participants who may not fully understand what they are letting themselves in for. It could be very uncomfortable for them as they might be split between living their normal lives and playing a role for the television."