Last week the most significant story in television -at least in my humble opinion- was not the federal election, Eurovision or Game of Thrones.
It was ITV’s decision to axe The Jeremy Kyle Show in the UK, following the death of a participant.
ITV has been under pressure over Duty of Care matters since the death of 2 Love Island contestants.
Sophie Gradon died by suicide in 2018, two years after appearing on the second series of the dating show. Her mother Deborah slammed ITV for ‘exploiting’ people and ‘using’ them for their ‘own advantage’. Earlier this year, Mike Thalassitis, who appeared on the third series, died by suicide after his body was found in a forest near his home.
The Jeremy Kyle Show, a Jerry Springer-style show, was cancelled last week following the death of a guest who failed a lie detector test and all broadcast episodes were pulled.
Manipulation on Reality TV has long been under the magnifying glass, but when combined with the vitriol of social media, paparazzi, clickbait and the pursuit of TV ratings, it is reaching dangerously new lows.
Married at First Sight this year attracted unprecedented attention and on-air conflict. Channel Seven, which is currently promoting a physical altercation last night in its upcoming series The Super Switch, put the show in its crosshairs last night when Sunday Night spoke with 2016 participant Clare Verrall. Verall has previously criticised the show’s tactics on social media and in interviews.
She revealed two attempted suicide attempts following production as well as raising questions about duty of care by Nine. Verrall also insisted she had never met any of the show’s 3 experts prior to filming her TV wedding.
Also speaking out was Colleen Vincent, mother of 2019 participant Billy (he remains under contract). She spoke about how upsetting it was to see her son losing it on camera, and how she questioned his decision to participate.
2012 Big Brother winner Benjamin Norris also told Sunday Night he was not prepared for a tirade of abuse on social media after leaving the house, while 2017 Bachelorette participant Stu Laundy exposed editing tricks of 10’s season when he fell for Sophie Monk.
Sunday Night was right to raise concerns about Duty of Care in Australian television production. It was unfortunate the only Seven programmes that got a look in, My Kitchen Rules for example, were in montage clips. There have been plenty of contestants who have also criticised its tactics, including this year when a promo with Victor twirling a knife to spooky sound effects was later revealed to be a moment when he was bored during a long shoot. Piper also criticised producers for including a ‘sex scandal storyline’ in a cooking show.
Nevertheless the broader point of ‘what will it take before new guidelines are put in place?’ is a valid question.
“We know that in overseas shows people have taken their lives,” psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg told Sunday Night.
“Do we really have to wait til there’s a suicide or some serious mental health problem that’s emerged as a result of being on one of these shows before we act? I hope not.”
Married at First Sight producers Endemol Shine Australia, echoed in statements by Nine, have repeatedly defended their Duty of Care saying, “There is a dedicated show psychologist and support team available to every participant throughout the entire production, broadcast and beyond.”
While on-air psychologists (or ‘experts’ as MAFS now refers to its trio) do differ from off-camera psychologists supplied for casts, they are increasingly embedded into the genre. Seven will soon feature couples therapist Guy Vicars and psychologist Jacqui Manning in The Super Switch. By the look of those volatile promos, Sunday Night‘s concerns may yet be applied to the network’s next profile show…
More concerning are the lengths to which story producers will go to elicit conflict on camera in the chase for ratings.
We can only hope incidents in the UK are not mirrored in Australia and that sensible people working on crews can draw a line in the sand. Or that Free TV and ACMA take a stronger line on production guidelines sooner rather than later.
Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg declined to speak on the topic when previously approached by TV Tonight. The Australian Psychological Society has also declined to discuss the role of psychologists appearing as on-air talent in Reality TV.