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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Celebrities go back to reality TV
By Tom Bishop
BBC News website entertainment staff in Edinburgh

Jayne Middlemiss
The presenter said reality TV proved a confidence booster

Three celebrities were left in a room for one hour, watched closely by a big audience as they discussed whether it was time to evict celebrity reality shows from our TV screens.

Jayne Middlemiss, James Hewitt and Jade Goody previously appeared in the most popular and infamous examples of the genre - from Celebrity Love Island and Big Brother to The Games, Back to Reality and Celebrity Wrestling.

Despite a critical backlash against celebrity shows, and poor ratings pushing Celebrity Wrestling from its primetime slot, the stars were unrepentant as they addressed the Edinburgh TV festival.

"It was the best thing I ever did," said Middlemiss, who cried and flirted her way to victory on Celebrity Love Island.

"It gave me a platform to be on primetime ITV for five weeks."

Conquering fears

Hewitt said his many reality show appearances had helped temper his public image as the "love rat" who tried to sell letters from the late Princess Diana.

I was being myself and viewers could relate to me
Jade Goody

"It worked," he joked. "People disliked me before and they hate me now."

Goody is similarly thick-skinned, having been pilloried while on Channel 4's Big Brother in 2002 before becoming a well-paid TV regular.

"The press may have called me a pig but I was a very happy pig," she said.

"I was being myself and viewers could relate to me."

As well as boosting her career, Middlemiss said her Celebrity Love Island stint helped her to "conquer a lot of fears on national television" as viewers saw her assert herself after being distressed.

People love to be snobbish about celebrity reality TV
Jayne Middlemiss

She dismissed the idea that contestants were systematically humiliated for viewers' entertainment, a notion referred to by Lord Birt in his MacTaggart lecture as "easy cruelty".

"You know what you are signing up for when you become involved," Middlemiss said.

"This is reality TV - if any contestant doesn't know the consequences of that they are a bit stupid."

However, Middlemiss rejected the idea of appearing on further reality shows.

"Unlike James, I have sort of got a job already," she said.

Hewitt responded by expressing an interest in appearing in the next series of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

Being snobbish

Programme-makers at the Edinburgh TV festival also felt there was some mileage left in the celebrity reality show genre.

James Hewitt
James Hewitt expressed an interest in appearing in future shows

BBC head of entertainment commissioning Jane Lush said the corporation would continue to make celebrity versions of shows such as Fame Academy or Strictly Come Dancing, "if they are the right shows with the right cast".

"We try to encourage our contestants to do something - like ballroom dancing or singing," she added.

"We try not to use people who have been on other celebrity shows, and we do not make shows where people are humiliated."

Granada's controller of factual entertainment, Natalka Znak, shared her faith, announcing plans for a second series of Celebrity Love Island.

"For me it is not so much about the status of the people taking part, it is the mix of strong characters and how they relate to each other that is important," Znak said.

"Some celebrity shows are good, some are going to be bad," she added, "but there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrities being paid to entertain us."

Displaying a no-nonsense style that would have won a few extra viewer votes, Middlemiss cut to the heart of the debate - ratings.

"People love to be snobbish about celebrity reality TV," she concluded, "but they still watch it."

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