Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Saturday, 23 August 2008 12:30 UK

TV's celebrity factor under spotlight

By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News in Edinburgh

Sharon Osbourne
Sharon Osbourne's guest appearance has been billed as a festival highlight

Has television's celebrity boom had its day?

Are viewers - and, more importantly, TV bosses - fed up with the endless parade of C-, D- and E-list names baring their souls in so-called reality shows?

Not according to those in the know at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

Viewers have watched Jodie Marsh find a husband on screen and Kerry Katona give birth.

They've seen Jade Goody abuse Shilpa Shetty and be told by Big Brother she has cancer (though not in the British version).

They've eavesdropped as the mother of all "reality" stars, Sharon Osbourne, invited TV cameras into a rock-star family home - letting them stay for three years - before reinventing herself as an X Factor judge.

Yet still they want more, we were told at a festival session called I'm a Celebrity - Get Me on TV!.

'Get me celebrities'

The panellists included Osbourne herself, the publicist Max Clifford and the former editor of the celebrity magazine Heat, Mark Frith.

"The world of celebrity has got bigger," said Frith.

"It's the same in advertising," added Osbourne. "They want a celebrity to advertise their product because it works."

Gok Wan and Alexa Chung
Gok Wan presented a special version of his show, for TV executives

The executive producer of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! went further.

"I haven't been into any meeting with any commissioner at any channel where they haven't said, 'Get me a celebrity on this show,'" said Natalka Znak, controller of factual entertainment at ITV Productions.

"It doesn't matter what subject it is, or how serious the documentary, they say, 'I want a celebrity presenting it,'" she said.

"That's all people care about. There's so much competition for viewers, a celebrity might just make you watch something you would not ordinarily watch."

The irony was not lost on the audience.

Holocaust joke

For the festival organisers have succumbed to the same obsession, luring ever more celebrities to Edinburgh in recent years, to boost media attention.

This year they even appointed the celebrity PR firm Taylor Herring to maximise coverage.

The festival opened with the current king of TV fashion, Gok Wan, hosting a live edition of How to Look Good Naked, featuring hapless TV executives in various stages of dress and undress.

Richard and Judy
Richard and Judy are among the stars lined up for the Edinburgh TV Festival

Next up was Jamie Oliver, giving the Richard Dunn Memorial Interview, where he managed to offend Germans in the audience - and others - by making a veiled joke about the Holocaust.

The interview was punctuated by a cookery lesson in which the one-time "Naked Chef" coached a "volunteer" from the audience.

Surprise, surprise, it turned out to be Sharon Osbourne - who then took the stage in her own right, indulging in a spiky spat with Max Clifford in the celebrity session.

The dynamic duo kept the celeb-conscious journalists happy with some well-timed exclusives - Osbourne revealing that she'd love to appear on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing; Clifford that he'd signed up cycling's triple-gold-medallist Chris Hoy and was seeking more Olympic clients.

Star line-up

More celebs and TV spin-off shows are to come, as the festival unfolds over the weekend.

Richard and Judy are in conversation, fresh from their final show on Channel 4.

Evan Davis hosts three special editions of Dragon's Den, while Armando Iannucci gives the Alternative MacTaggart Lecture.

John Humphrys will present a Mastermind Edinburgh Special; there's an 8 Out of 10 Cats Edinburgh Special with Jimmy Carr; and Angus Deayton is hosting a Before They Were Famous Edinburgh Special.

Anything, it seems, to enliven what might otherwise seem a succession of boring television executives.

As ITV's director of television, Peter Fincham, put it, in his keynote MacTaggart Lecture on Friday night - "whisper it quietly - we're in showbusiness".


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