Tara and her C-list celebrity chums revive ITV fortunes

After months of falling viewing figures and high-profile resignations, ITV may finally be turning the corner – thanks to the most unlikely of saviours.

After months of falling viewing figures and high-profile resignations, ITV may finally be turning the corner – thanks to the most unlikely of saviours.

Eight C-list celebrities arguing ad nauseam in the Australian jungle might have done enough to revive the station's flagging fortunes, industry experts predicted yesterday.

While basking in the publicity created by I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, ITV last night launched a new series of Popstars: The Rivals – the show that made stars of Hear'Say.

Tonight's final episode of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! is expected to see viewing figures break through the magic 10 million barrier. The peak ratings so far are 9.2 million but every episode has appeared to gain in popularity.

Granada, the show's producers, are almost certain to make another series. While most of the money from phone votes to eject each night's celebrity will go to a charity of the winner's choice, the programme has still been a cash bonanza to ITV at a time when advertising revenues are declining alarmingly. Neil Blackley of Merrill Lynch said that reality shows were "a stop-gap" and the real test would come with the network's new season of dramas which would face stiff competition from other channels. "ITV is like a super-tanker and it's going to take a good nine months to turn it round, but things look more encouraging."

A surprising beneficiary has been Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, the It girl previously known for little more than her hectic social life, her royal connections and a one-time drug habit. She has been the true star of the show and is now the bookmakers' favourite to win tonight. Yesterday she was battling it out with Christine Hamilton and Tony Blackburn – one of whom was due to be evicted from the Australian jungle camp last night.

An industry insider, who has worked in the reality TV genre, said managers and agents will already be waiting in the wings to cash in.

He said: "When the contestants agree to take part they know they are taking a gamble. They can either become successful like Claire Sweeney, or bomb like Vanessa Feltz. But it's a gamble they're prepared to take and they have to move quickly to make the most of the heightened public interest."

But renowned PR experts Max Clifford and Mark Borkowski are not convinced of the benefits of the show. "If you had a real career you just wouldn't subject yourself to it," said Mr Borkowski. "But people are intrigued by it, like the strange compulsion to look at the scene of a crash. It's sickening yet compelling. But millions of viewers cannot be wrong, can they?"

The viewing figures confirm its appeal, and its finale tonight will take advantage of that with a 90-minute special for which the entire original cast, which also includes stage performer Darren Day, former boxer Nigel Benn, psychic Uri Geller, comedian Rhona Cameron and model Nell McAndrew, is rumoured to be reunited.

But Mr Borkowski predicts that nearly all of them will rue the day they appeared. "There will be a time when they will ask themselves: 'What did we do that for?' It's not the passage of time being a great healer; it's the passage of time giving them a reality check," he said.

Mr Clifford said he would still not advise any of his clients to take part. "It's a freak show, reminiscent of Victorian times when people visited lunatic asylums for amusement," he said.

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