Ian Monk: Pantomime season has arrived early

The perennial return to the screens of the big beasts of reality TV has become as sure a harbinger of autumn as dying leaves.

Ian Monk: pantomime season has arrived early
Ian Monk: pantomime season has arrived early

Disbelief stands suspended as the Z-listers parade their fake squabbles on Big Brother and the minimally talented wannabee karaoke singers sashay through the early rounds of The X Factor.

Tabloids, under the cosh for alleged misdeeds, heave a collective sigh of relief. No need for underhand methods as front-page sensations abound. They would probably even bug their own phones to generate a headline.

The shows, once taken partially seriously either as social experiments or as the crucible of new talent, often seem little more than pantomime. 'Simon was wicked to Cheryl ...'. 'Booooo,' choruses the audience. Tulisa's funnier than Kelly ...' 'Oh no she's not!' 'Oh yes she is!'

No matter - it's win, win for 'stars', publicists, broadcasters and red tops. The revived Big Brother drew an initial audience of 5.1 million and averages almost three million per show after the first week, triple Channel Five's average audience last year. Not for nothing is Five's owner, Richard Desmond, recognised as one of the greatest exemplars of the maxim that no-one ever went broke underestimating public taste.

Some publicists feared that Desmond's ownership of the Daily Star might make it hard for them to persuade other newspapers to write about their BB clients. But Five's masterstroke was to sign up Sally Bercow, the stop-at-nothing wife of Commons speaker John.

Firmly established as a Daily Mail villain, her presence in the house ensured a flow of outraged middle-market coverage of the show.

Bercow's own public signing of Max Clifford to handle her publicity added another layer of guaranteed tabloid interest.

One prominent and plausible story was that Mr Bercow was so distraught by his wife's behaviour on the show that he was considering divorcing her. Was it a real story or ratings-boosting hype? In the smoke and mirrors world of reality TV does anyone really care? Apart from presumably Mr and Mrs Bercow, and their three young children.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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