ITV CEO Discusses Talk Show Cancellation After Death of Guest, Use of Lie Detectors

Anthony Harvey/Getty Images
ITV CEO Carolyn McCall

Carolyn McCall also talked about 'Love Island' in front of a British parliamentary committee that is probing reality TV and the support TV companies provide for participants.

Top executives from U.K. TV giant ITV, including CEO Carolyn McCall, answered questions about Love Island and the use of lie detector tests on such talk shows as the recently canceled The Jeremy Kyle Show, as part of a British parliamentary committee probe into reality TV in London on Tuesday.

Their appearances helped kick off a parliamentary probe into reality TV and talk shows and the support TV companies provide participants following the death of a former guest on the Kyle Show who had taken a lie detector test, a popular recurring feature, on the show.

"We will not commission a show in the future [with] this format, using lie detector tests," McCall told the committee in a session that was live-streamed. "They haven’t done anything wrong," she said though about the production team of the show and how it explained the tests to guests and audiences. All processes "were followed." 

McCall and other executives argued that ITV took its duty of care seriously. "We did what is required," she said about ITV's explanation of the accuracy of lie detector tests to guests and audiences. "We probably went beyond what is required."

She added: "I honestly think that the team did whatever they could to explain.... There will be some individuals that would not listen, I think, probably — that’s just human nature."

Concluded the ITV CEO: "We have done an internal review.... We will learn from this and we will improve everything we do based on learning."

McCall was faced with the suggestion that the show was driven by the desire for high ratings, not the hope to help people. "This show, I would say, at its core was trying very much to resolve people’s issue," she replied. "It did have some positive intentions. It didn’t always work out like that. That is clear." She added: "It was a radio show first, became a TV show. From its inception, it was about trying to resolve issues with people with normal lives."

McCall also highlighted that the decision to cancel was made because it was the right call. "It may not be to your taste…but it was watched by a million people a day," she told the committee. "We did not make a commercial decision around this show.... We didn’t even discuss commercial things." Mentioning that she gets "emails every day" and there was a petition with about 50,000 signatures to bring the show back, McCall said, "We’re not going to bring back The Jeremy Kyle Show."

Added ITV chairman Peter Bazalgette, who had brought Big Brother to Britain: "When I look at the number of people who viewed [the Kyle Show] and enjoyed it, when I look at the number of people who wanted to get on it because they thought it had some value...it was something to be proud of."

McCall reiterated Tuesday that Kyle would continue to work with ITV. In what form? "We haven’t confirmed what it would be," she said, but emphasized that it would not be "a talk show of this ilk in any way."

McCall also told the committee about the fallout from the death that, "everybody at ITV was extremely sorry." And she said that the production team also had a tough time. "Suspending the show created shock waves," she explained. "They were harassed by the media.… It has been a very difficult time for the people who have worked on the show."

ITV Studios' managing director Julian Bellamy earlier in the day told the committee that "we felt the duty of care processes were robust." Asked if he still felt that way, he replied, "yes, I am still confident." But he also emphasized that the company feels the processes in place are "not perfect" and must continuously be reviewed. "We are constantly striving to improve."

Bellamy said that, "I know personally…how seriously duty of care was taken," citing that 20,000 guests have appeared on the Kyle show and only seven complained to U.K. media regulator Ofcom and none of these complaints were upheld. He added that only five Ofcom complaints against the show were upheld over the years, with three of them focused on language and none on duty of care issues. "People were very, very clear about the nature and content of the show," he also emphasized.

Tom McLennan, one of the executive producers of The Jeremy Kyle Show and director of entertainment, North, ITV Studios, and Graham Stanier, director of aftercare, told the committee that guests gave their "informed consent" to appear on the show and their team made clear to tell them that lie detector tests aren't 100 percent reliable. Committee members criticized them for not knowing and mentioning to guests the failure percentage range of such tests, with one citing an expert as mentioning wrong results in about a third of cases. 

McCall later also touched on that issue, saying that "the range is always disputed," with the lie detector examiners ITV used for the show mentioning a 90 percent accuracy rate on their site, while ITV chose to never cite any specific figures to avoid being disingenuous.

McLennan on Tuesday also defended the show as not just being about dramatic moments. "There was conflict, but there was also resolution," he suggested. “We used different tools. The lie detector was one way to resolution." And he said that "duty for care was important," adding, "I don’t believe the people who came on The Jeremy Kyle Show were exploited."

He argued that most show guests watched it on a daily basis, had a problem, loved Kyle and wanted to hear his advice. Regular viewers would say Kyle was "a fantastic presenter," he said.  

Kyle himself didn't appear Tuesday. "We believe that Jeremy Kyle himself is an important witness," Collins had said in a statement last week. "We sent an invitation through his representatives, and we have now heard that he has declined to appear. We will be pursuing this matter with his representatives to fully understand the reasons why he has declined and we will make a further statement in due course."

ITV hit show Love Island was a focus of questioning later in the committee hearing day. "I do feel confident about Love Island’s process," McCall said when asked about how well participants get prepared to appear on the show. "The echo chamber of social media…can make it very difficult for a participant," but everyone is told about this on all ITV shows. "On Love Island, we actually give them social media training." That is designed to help all on the show, no matter what the show means for their future. After all, "some of them will be famous, some of them will be ignored," McCall said.

Bazalgette said the network prepares and supports all reality TV show participants, but also offered: "I would regard Love Island as a much more benign version of Big Brother."

McCall also got one question about how Love Island may affect viewers' body image, saying ITV airs "very different shows, and they show the diversity of Britain completely, including body image." Love Island contestants tend to be young and healthy though, because it is a dating show, she said. "If you look at the series now, they are not all the same shape, neither the men, nor the women. There are variations of shapes."

She also highlighted that all contestants on Love Island "go through testing for performance-enhancing drugs and the like. "They are tested for drugs, they are tested for steroids, they are tested for everything," McCall said. "We have no tolerance for the use of any type of drug."

The parliamentary committee's reality TV inquiry "will consider production companies’ duty of care to participants, and ask whether enough support is offered both during and after filming, and whether there is a need for further regulatory oversight in this area," the parliamentary committee for media and other issues said earlier this year when it announced the investigation.

Committee chair Damian Collins unveiled the probe after ITV canceled tabloid talk show The Jeremy Kyle Show, which has been compared to The Jerry Springer Show, after the death of a guest by suspected suicide.

Collins said at the time: "Programs like The Jeremy Kyle Show risk putting people who might be vulnerable on to a public stage at a point in their lives when they are unable to foresee the consequences, either for themselves or their families. This kind of TV featuring members of the public attracts viewing figures in the millions but in return for ratings, the broadcasters must demonstrate their duty of care to the people whose personal lives are being exposed. With an increasing demand for this type of programming, we’ll be examining broadcasting regulation in this area — is it fit for purpose?"