Watching The Jeremy Kyle Show while procrastinating from work always brings forth a number of interesting dilemmas: spats about people disowning children, sleeping with their girlfriend’s mothers, and using their dead parents inheritance to sell crack just to name a few of the high- lights. While the guests on the show may not be the crème de la crème of British culture, it is fair to say that the studio audiences who watch these complex narratives unravel are equally, or perhaps more troubling than the guests on the show.
The show, which first aired on ITV in 2005, aims to help people solve their various personal issues in front of a live studio audience. The show does achieve this to a certain extent, having links to various rehabilitation centres and creating an admirable amount of success stories. However, this success is under- mined by the pantomime-style ‘boo-ing’ and ‘aww-ing’ of the crowd, making the people on-screen appear cheap stock figures to be made fun of and mocked on national television. While we can laugh at the absurdity of many of the stories and indeed the actions of the show’s guests, I can’t help but feeling that a more sensitive approach should be taken with regard to such serious issues as drug abuse, children abandoned by parents, and alcoholism. Dealing with these issues under the crass cries of the audience be- comes a hindrance to what the show claims to achieve; as phrased by ITV to ‘deal with…dilemmas and topical issues.’
Conversely, however, in terms of the ‘essence’ of the show, the studio audience seems vital. Without them, the show would essentially be an angry middle-aged man shouting at people and occasionally sitting at the front of the stage laughing at them. However, having Jeremy Kyle be clapped and cheered at after yelling abuse at his guests adds a strange sense of showmanship to his actions, somehow making the insults he yells seem justifiable. Suddenly, shouting at a stranger to ‘shut up’ is made acceptable, as it is followed by applause. In this respect, the studio audience is vital, as it allows the viewers at home to accept these instances suitable. Likewise, having the guests on the show be booed, in contrast, makes us side with Jeremy Kyle, no matter who may be in the right. This pantomime-styled contrast created by the studio audience reactions is heightened visually; Kyle always dressed in a suit while his guests are much more casually attired.
The studio audience becomes a reflection of the audience at home. This is why the audience in Jeremy Kyle is problematic, as the viewer at home, like the studio audience, has a say in the issues fought out on television, whilst not being appropriately qualified, in many instances, to do so. Therefore, whilst the studio audience of the show becomes morally problematic, in making a national joke of the people the show seeks to help, in terms of viewing, it does add a sense of drama to the show. With the audience’s participation, we are manipulated into siding with Kyle. The fact that the audience has a voice creates a pantomime effect – a pantomime of the sometimes disturbing narratives that are played out on the stage.