I only tuned into to the last 10 minutes of the Britain's Got Talent final, and even that tiny bit of blood sport made me feel extremely guilty. Surprising really, as I've created and produced quite a bit of television, and appeared in reality shows, starting with I'm a Celebrity... in 2004.
The reason I felt slightly nauseous watching on Saturday night was because I had succumbed to the drug that the makers of these shows spoon-feed us until we are completely hooked. It's called "jeopardy" by telly insiders, and over the past few years it has been ramped up into a gladiatorial sport. Jeopardy is the crack cocaine of popular television. Once you've tuned in, you just can't switch off. It's that long-drawn out moment where finalists or contestants stand there sweating and quaking and trembling in the spotlight like fragile butterflies on pins waiting to hear their fate. This brinkmanship has been turned into an exquisite form of torture which most viewers are transfixed by, and Ant and Dec are its best proponents.
You'll know exactly what I mean, as jeopardy now constitutes a major element in almost every factual series on the box. It's the process of elimination, and it is carefully stage-managed, right down to the music, the long drawn-out pauses, and the use of phrases like "It MIGHT be you". It's a key part of popular shows like The Apprentice, Big Brother and MasterChef. The list gets longer every week.
I took part in a reality series for ITV2 a couple of years back called Deadline, in which I edited a magazine helped by a motley bunch of celebs. The format dictated that I fired someone every single week. The ritual was completely formulaic. My helpers were summoned to the boardroom and I was given a very carefully written script to wind them up as much as possible before delivering my nasty verdict. It made the remaining few pathetically grateful they were being allowed to participate for another week, and a kind of hysterical euphoria ensued.
In the I'm A Celebrity... jungle, all contestants are ordered to gather around the campfire for the arrival of Ant and Dec, which is shown live in the UK. Sometimes you are kept waiting for ages (no one is allowed a watch) and tempers become frayed and people get very impatient. Hidden cameras are trained on your face in extreme close-up.
When the perky pair finally arrive, they hold cards with your fate on it close to their chest. Then they go right through each anxious celebrity, winding them up, until one person is finally evicted. And you submit to the same process the very next day.
Looking at Susan Boyle on Saturday night, it was perfectly obvious in an instant that she was unable to cope with the elimination ritual, and several of the children looked very uncomfortable too. I sometimes think programme-makers will only be happy when someone actually wets themselves on camera or starts screaming.
I don't buy that it's necessary to punish people like this in order to make shows more exciting. The process has got out of hand. I very was surprised that BGT did not employ a psychiatrist to assess the finalists and screen out those unable to cope. Mind you, most reality shows put together a team of participants who will tick various boxes. One must always be very erratic, temperamental, and about to freak out. A couple of the others must loathe each other on sight.
BGT finalists are chosen by the public, but what they are asked to go through in the studio in front of a huge audience far exceeds the demands of a normal talent show. In the jungle, all the contestants are screened by psychiatrists beforehand (for some reason I wasn't, probably because I was considered a professional who knew the score).
But they still regularly choose people who are very vulnerable. Sophie Anderton had only left rehab a few weeks earlier, and Brian Harvey (who was sacked from East 17 for making alleged comments about drugs) had to be removed from the show after a couple of days when he lost the plot and started ranting about wanting crates of mineral water. He subsequently tried to commit suicide, and then managed to run over himself when he fell out of his own car. Earlier this year he told an interviewer he was "as low as you can get".
Time and again on reality shows you see people who've got serious mental issues or addictions, and although programme-makers claim they have psychiatrists and counsellors on standby should anything go wrong, it's debatable whether that is good enough.
We have certainly come a long way since Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks, with people playing the spoons and the wonderfully kitsch Musical Muscle Man, and it's good to see BGT is a programme which whole families will enjoy together – a rare commodity these days. Susan Boyle needed support and counselling from the start, but I suspect someone on the production team thought it would be good telly to allow her to go all the way.
It isn't enough to give people a friend or two to hang out with during rehearsals and a posh hotel room. We are taking ordinary people and subjecting them to an unacceptable form of bullying. And it ought to be reined in.
These MPs have got a nerve criticising the Queen
The Commons' public accounts committee has been going through the Queen's finances with a fine toothcomb and published a highly critical report this week. The committee suggests the royal palaces should be open more days in the year to generate the extra cash needed for urgent repairs, estimated at £23m.
In spite of urging the Queen to move all her staff to accommodation within Buckingham Palace so that property can be rented out and generate more income, this has not happened. It's highly ironic that some of these same MPs who are so critical of the way that the Queen manages her finances have been exposed as people with a rather lax way of using public cash when it comes to furnishing their own properties.
The committee chair, Edward Leigh, claimed about £22,000 a year in expenses on a second home. Among other committee members, Richard Bacon charged £1,547 for cushions, and Don Touhig claimed £525 for repainting his home in Wales. Angela Browning claimed £1,000 for two radiator covers, while Ian Davidson paid a friend £5,500 to do up his flat, and then took him shooting! Perhaps HRH should enlist their team of friendly workmen to help her out.Reuse content