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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 November, 2003, 09:17 GMT
Has reality TV gone too far?

By Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

What a shame. Sky One, we read, has shelved its latest reality TV show after protests from its participants.

In Find Me a Man (or There's Something About Miriam, depending on which publication you read), half a dozen fit young men competed in a "mansion in Ibiza" for the attentions of a glamorous young woman, blissfully unaware that she was a he.

Sun newspaper
The TV show has been shelved by Sky One

The six have threatened to sue Sky for defamation, breach of contract, personal injury and conspiracy to commit sexual assault (because several of them had kissed and cuddled her).

One of the men, a Royal Marine, is said to have broken down in tears of humiliation when the deception was revealed. Some of the production crew apparently sympathised with the men's reaction.

If the case ever comes to court it could provide an interesting test of just how binding are the release forms routinely signed by participants in television programmes - can they be enforced if they have, in effect, been signed under false pretences?

Right to privacy?

The men are being represented by the celebrity law firm Schillings, whose other clients have included Nicole Kidman, Jamie Theakston, Naomi Campbell, JK Rowling, Carole Caplin, Mark Bosnich and the jockeys who have been banned from using mobile phones on racecourses.

Since Schillings' ability to generate publicity when it suits their clients' interests is matched only by the firm's enthusiasm for the idea of a new legal right to privacy, you might have thought the firm was the source of the story, which was taken up by most of Friday's newspapers.

In fact the news was broken by Broadcast magazine, under the headline "Is this the cruellest reality TV show yet?", and it did not come from Schillings because the one bit Broadcast could not stand up was that the men were suing.

I suspect a source at the production company, Brighter Pictures, which is owned by reality TV specialists Endemol. Did it leak unintentionally? Or was it one of those manufactured stories so common in the world of popular culture?

Ammunition

I am not sure, but I do know that once the news had broken someone's publicists were quick to feed the tabloids a pixillated photo of the six contestants, and a decidedly unpixillated pic of the alluring Miriam.

As Broadcast implied, the programme provides ammunition for those who think that, this time, reality TV really has gone too far.

But its shelving also adds to the headache at Sky One, where audience share has been falling.

The last thing the channel's new boss needed was being forced to can a programme which so evidently had the potential to get the audience talking.




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