The BBC presenter John Humphrys has described British reality TV as "seedy, cynical and harmful" to society.
In a speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Humphrys said that shows such as Big Brother "eroded the distinction between the public and the private".
He also warned that there was a battle on TV between those who were concerned about society and those who wanted to make programmes that make money.
Do you agree with John Humphrys? Has reality TV gone too far? Is it harmful to society? Or is it simply light entertainment?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
I think John Humphrys is harmful to society!
Derek S, UK
Reality TV is great for society. I've never read so many books in ages.
Graham Haywood, UK
John Humphrys is so right! All my life I have taught young people that with adulthood comes responsibility. Reality programmes undermine the work of every teacher in the land because children accept as the norm what is actually selfish, immature behaviour. Reality shows pander to the lowest animal instincts in youth, who also begin to believe that casual relationships are normal. Materialism and the premise that it is acceptable to be deceitful and nasty in order to win should instead be seen as equating one with the lowest of the low!
Ken Smith, Diss, Norfolk
There is worse drivel than reality shows - namely house/garden makeover shows and mind boggling dull quiz shows. The problem is that there are so many different TV channels that most of them now pump out utter rubbish, just as a feeble attempt to get market share for advertising. It is a sign of a very boring and uninteresting society that advertisers wish to promote.
Liam, Worcester, UK
Television, like religion, is simply a form of social control. Without both people would actually begin to think for themselves and the social infrastructure would break down. Reality TV is simply a purer form of control, and it works by keeping millions from thinking for themselves, so don't knock it.
Tim, Birmingham, UK
When the likes of Victor from Big Brother's last series are rewarded with a radio station presenter's contract, I reckon that the violent confrontational ignorance that he demonstrated appears to be rewarded by the media which can only be harmful to society. The levels of hate/animosity and the death threats televised just are not light entertainment.
Gareth Crawshaw, Olney, England
I think the intolerance shown by those who choose to damn "reality tv" is astounding. Reading the comments posted, I would far rather be identified with a group of people who can see reality tv shows, such as Big Brother, as just one form of entertainment amongst those on offer. I, for one, would certainly not set myself up as an arbiter of others' tastes, nor would I have the arrogance to insult those who do not share my own tastes. Those that choose to watch reality tv would seem to be a far more balanced and non-judgemental group of people than those who see fit to dismiss it and its viewers from the examples posted here.
Reality TV is so cheap because you don't need writers, actors, directors... it is killing off new talent and we are all worse off for that. When the people behind "Spaced" released "Shaun of the Dead" last year, they said that if Big Brother could be done in the cinema, it would be the end.
Rebecca, Cambridge, UK
Seedy? Yes indeed! But also so boring, and obviously designed for a small minority of sad people who have no life. The standard of television programmes has deteriorated severely over the last two decades. Why are people prepared to sit and watch such mundane and amateurish productions? Why are television producers prepared to sink to such low depths to gain an audience?
Brian Frisby, Basildon. Essex
If I thought that the money programme makers save by making reality shows was being spent to improve other programmes, such shows might be a good thing. Sadly, it's far from clear that this is happening.
Pat Holliday, Richmond, UK
It's interesting to note that some people call it mindless boring drivel and other say it is interesting and entertaining. I imagine those that say it is mindless drivel don't watch it enough to get involved with the characters and therefore don't find it interesting. Reality TV isn't something you can dip in and out of very easily. You have to either like that sort of thing and watch regularly or you don't. I think it's very rude of people who aren't interested to say that only people who 'don't have a life' watch it.
Wendy, Herts, England
I totally disagree with John Humphrys. This guy doesn't even watch television so how can he criticise it?
David Powner, Wolverhampton
Reality TV makes false celebrities of its contestants. It idolises attention grabbing and the thirst for money. What's more, with no control over what the contestants do there is no appearance of a moral message, whereas in even the most violent dramas there usually is. Of course this stain on TV is harmful to our society, and I am totally in support of Mr. Humphrys.
Thank goodness John Humphrys said that TV is seedy,cyncical and harmful to society. Is he the only one in the TV industry who has the integrity to say what the silent majority think? It is sad that a wonderful modern creation such as TV should be squandered on such trivia. These programmes demonstrate what a decadent society we have become.
TV doesn't simply reflect society, it creates it. As commercial TV takes a downward spiral to the lowest common denominator in an effort to shock and grab viewers, so follows the real world. I've given up on watching ITV because of the constant scheduling of nothing but reality shows, game shows and soap operas. Unfortunately in some respects the BBC isn't far behind. Thanks goodness there are now specialist news and documentary channels to provide at least some mentally stimulating content.
Andrew, Cardiff, UK
Reality TV went too far a long time ago. The incessant stupidity of Big Brother only manages to glorify precisely the sort of people who should never be put on a pedestal, and it isn't even the worst reality TV show out there. This trash is ruining television and driving real, well produced drama off the air.
Christy, Newcastle, UK
I agree with John Humphrys. So called reality TV is not reality but is carefully staged by the production companies. It is not scripted but neither is improvised comedy. Like all TV there are elements designed to pull the audience in. TV companies like them because it's cheap TV. The problem is that, where it was once a genre you could take or leave, it now dominates the schedules and potentially excludes other forms of broadcasting.
Steve Townsley, Gateshead, UK
Reality TV? Switch off! I was persuaded to watch a couple of Big Brother programmes and that thing in the Oz jungle. Totally out of touch with what people call reality! How about making the fans of these programmes watch the real reality of poverty, illness, the elderly, school bullying to mention a few? That won't happen because that's a bit too close to home and won't get sponsors' support. I don't always agree with JH, but on this occasion I'm backing him to the hilt. It shames us all as individuals in respect - real respect for ordinary, decent people.
I would agree entirely with John Humphrys' comments. As some of your correspondents have suggested, if we don't like a programme, we can turn it off. The big objection is that there is so much of it - just dross on every channel. Big Brother was on Channel 4 for hours and hours every day almost to the point that it seemed that it was the only programme that they had - for 10 weeks. More and more presenters seem to be complete morons demanding that I throw things at the TV in rage. Just as John Humphrys said, the programmes encourage rage and frustration. To relax in front of a TV, I have to watch DVDs of great programmes from the past.
Ron Ball, Crawley, West Sussex
Its cheap, its drivel, but you can't deny it is entertainment. I personally loathe reality TV, but the ratings show there are a lot of people who don't. Give 'em what they want, those unhappy can switch the set off and do something productive.
Paul Beckett, London, UK
Reality TV I am sick of it. It is no wonder people these days are so aggressive and angry all the time all they see in these reality TV mainly Big Brother rubbish is arguing with each other or trying to get one over on somebody.
People who say we have 300 channels to view some of us don't as due to the high cost of a lot of digital TV not everybody can have it as we all are not rich; I can just about afford freeview. But this is a perfect example of how our society is - me me me I can have it and don't care about anyone who cannot. TV bosses take note get back to some decent comedy and decent dramas that we used to have.
Janet, Manchester UK
Nice one John! It seems that these days every programme is subject to the dreaded "public vote". Cheap TV because we the public pay for it. I wonder just how much money is being made out of a gullible public. Whilst we are happy to spend 10p, 20p, 50p or £1 to register our vote we continue to line someone's pockets. Soon only the programmes that make money will be made.
Steve, Woking, Surrey
I agree with John Humphrys - the recent crop of so called 'Reality' TV shows have plumbed the depths to which TV producers will sink in trying to grab audience figures and headlines. I only saw parts of the most recent Big Brother and in my opinion it was absolute trash which insulted the intelligence of the vast majority of the viewing public. I hate to think what younger, more impressionable viewers made of the output from the programme. It's time for a backlash against this garbage - if enough people boycotted the products advertised during such trashy programmes, then the producers would have to stop emitting such degrading rubbish.
Adrian , Swindon,England
One of the programmes I used to enjoy was Mastermind, which I now find has been dumbed down with simple questions, and a host who has no presenting ability whatsoever. His attempts to hold a conversation with the contestants are embarrassing. Reality TV is no worse than this junk. He should stick to what he knows, and mind his own business concerning other people's right to watch whatever they choose. I don't like reality TV so I don't watch it - many people moaning on this page would be well advised to do the same - only then they would have nothing to moan about would they?
Not sure it is harmful - the people that watch these programmes are already damaged! But, as a reflection of our society - yes, pathetic people doing pathetic things and all in the name of entertainment! Good on you John!
Life itself is a risk which can be controlled by us. Just like reality TV, we can choose to adapt, control or avoid viewing such shows.
Gabriel Basil, Plateau State, Nigeria.
So, a news reader with a slightly recognisable face but name that few knows, criticises shows with those that feature those with slightly recognisable faces but few know the names of. Get you head around that one, Rik Waller!
Jason, London, UK
Television is what you, a viewer, will make of it. The selection element is all too forgotten here. You can decide to watch something that will entertain you full stop one evening and then on another occasion watch something that will make you think, react and may be send you to the dictionary. In all cases, it is merely a choice.
Lucy , Bristol, UK
Bring back Sea-Side Special, Jim'll Fix It, Noel Edmonds and Juliet Bravo!
Simon Millard, Truro
John Humphrys might do better to start looking closer to home, the rapid decline in standards on the 24 hour news channels including BBC 24 has been awful. Newsreaders now joke, laugh and express their own opinions on the news they are reading. They come across more like presenters of a daytime chat show than as serious newsreaders. Lord Reith must be spinning in his grave.
Kevin, Essex, England
Terrestrial TV shows are being dumbed down, intentionally, for one reason only, to force people to switch to digital TV. The harm to society is inconsequential compared to the profits to be made from an all-digital broadcasting world.
Marc Brett, Teddington, UK
Reality TV is boring but people will watch it. It is not reality tv because scenarios are planned ahead of time. Film is edited. Still people will watch it.
Reality? Schmality! These programmes bear as much resemblance to reality as would whales in the Pacific to goldfish in the garden pond. The only real thing about them is the amount of time wasted by the TV companies in promoting and transmitting them, along with the number of trees felled to make the page after page of newsprint that is wasted enlarging on the rubbish.
Morgan, Pontypool, Wales
Reality TV is indicative of, rather than responsible for a new low in society. Values that should not be admired are advocated and we are given lessons in morality from those who should not be in a position to do so.
Oliver, Winchester, Hants
Am I the only one who finds it interesting that a journalist, of all people, criticises the erosion of "the distinction between the public and the private"? Besides, reality TV isn't harmful to society - human beings are.
Just what qualifications does a newsreader, nay quiz-show presenter have to think himself the ultimate arbiter of public taste?
Reality TV is the lowest form of entertainment, you confine several people in a house, watch them slag each other off, stab each other in the back and whoever is left at the end you give them some money. I wouldn't say it's harmful, just poor television.
Steve, Portsmouth, England
I agree with the people that say don't watch it if you don't like it but whenever Big Brother is on I have to put up with it not only on the TV but the radio, newspapers and workmates conversations! It's inescapable! I Barely watch the box nowadays but I still have to put up with Reality TV.
Dan B, Gloucester, UK
Reality TV is harmful to society? What sensationalism! I expect better from Humphrys. Reality TV might have gotten pretty stale now, but the boorish extroverts who appear on these programmes would surely find some other medium to humiliate themselves if there was no Big Brother.
Rob Foster, London, England
It's a fad, it will pass.
I can think of nothing worse than seeing people in such shows being rude and disrespectful to one another. It has become entertainment amongst many to see participants in these shows become ridiculed for their outrageous antics. Have we lost our own sense of self-respect by watching such shoddy output?
Julian Papworth, Southampton
I think it says more about our society than anything else. People watch these shows and the media obviously makes money because of it. I guess it says something about our media also.
Johann Khamis, Alameda, USA
I find the likes of Big Brother and its counterpart programmes a little light relief from the mundane and stuffy world that is twenty first century UK.
Ed H, Cheshire, UK
Reality TV, when it first came out, was a genuinely novel idea, it entertained those that watched it and that was fine. But now, whenever I see the words 'Coming soon on ITV/4', I know what it's going to be... Reality is single people going out in the evenings or staying in and reading a book; reality is families discussing their days, watching the TV; reality is also the elderly, going about their lives. Reality TV is not watching a group of people who never knew each other before try to form a society.
Nick, Paris, France
We seem to have developed a TV culture that thrives off Reality and Lifestyle programmes, and shows that breed talentless people to be famous for 15 minutes and then have the nerve to call them Celebrities. I feel sorry for all the talented actors, presenters and entertainers out there who seem to have been shunned in favour of tacky downmarket productions.
Jason D'Arcy, Bristol
In olden days the priests used to warn us of the demons at our shoulders that might possess us without our constant vigilance and their wise moral guidance. Now we don't believe in them any more so 'the great and the good' bang on about the evil influence of the media instead.
Camille, London, UK
I've been saying it for years, reality TV is indeed harmful to society! The people on these shows tend to be rude, with little respect for themselves and none for others. Like it or not, putting these people on TV makes them role models for children and young teenagers. So is it any wonder that these days that we have towns full of kids who sound like cavemen and act accordingly. Reality TV fuels anti-social behaviour, and contributes to already deteriorating standards of English. I'm only 23, but even I am shocked at the stark differences between the teenagers of today and my friends & I of yesteryear.
Broadcast television is not dead yet, but it is very sick. New technology has given many options to the viewer: videotapes, DVDs and, not least the internet. Meanwhile, the symptoms (low ratings) will worsen. TV is sick and the "patient" is refusing to admit that fact; as any doctor will tell us that reduces any chance of a cure!
Malcolm Baird, Hamilton, Canada
I won't say it's harmful; it's just an entertainment show. As for the word "reality", how real will a person be, if he or she is surrounded by the cameras?
I don't watch television anymore. Even non-commercial stations advertise things (usually programmes) we don't need or want with such urgency that the implication is without them we are somehow lesser. Such greed, along with laziness and basically stupidity in programming is unhealthy. Studies have shown television watching speeds the onset of dementia. I think that is damning enough.
I find these programs repulsive and degrading. The rates or "public curiosity" argument is irrelevant because pornography or say real-TV murder will always get the highest curiosity rate in an immoral, mob-driven "society".
Dmitri, London, UK
If anyone things this type of rubbish is reality, then God help the poor devils!
Ian Jennings, Kansas City USA
John Humphreys has hit the nail on the head! One only has to observe today's society to witness the rot which has set in, courtesy of "reality" shows. For the more impressionable viewer the behaviour exhibited on these shows is to be emulated and, judging by our high streets, there are a lot of impressionable viewers out there!
Amanda , Staffordshire
Seedy? Yes. Cynical? Probably.... Harmful? No! Nobody sees the contestants or stars as role models. The audience watches for the entertainment value of the show, mainly derived from criticising the depraved nature of those involved. While certainly a trashy form of entertainment, it entertains nonetheless and shouldn't be so heavily criticised; it was never designed to be taken seriously!!
Mr W, Buckinghamshire
I think there is something in what John Humphrys says but I also think he overstates his case. The biggest culprit is the BBC which has generally dumbed down in its attempt to chase ratings. His mistake was to attack Big Brother which, to my great surprise, I enjoyed because it did show humans interacting in a genuinely, if contrived, way.
Iain Cummings, Leeds
I'm sure that reality TV will eventually fade away like a child going through a phase, only to be replaced by something even more cynical and obnoxious. I think that the so called "lifestyle" programs are a far bigger example of the contempt the makers have for the viewing public. It is lazy, cheap television, and all the main channels are guilty.
Kevin C, N. Ireland
Relentlessly boring. Fit only for those with a base mentality - which apparently is most of us, as the more sex and violence and crass humour our TV producers offer, the higher their ratings. What does that say about our society? Well said, Mr. Humphreys. Unfortunately, most of us are not going to get our heads far enough above the roar of the gutter to hear you.
Victor, Oxford, UK
'Reality TV' is I suspect relatively easy to make, and an inexpensive way to fill programme hours for the programme makers. Occasionally compelling, oftentimes banal, but a wonderful excuse always for me to get on my 'moral high-ground', point the accusing finger and feel better about myself in the process. If it is TV's job to uphold traditional moral values, then yes, it fails. If it serves as a reminder of how desperate the human condition without belief in something other than itself, then I think it probably succeeds. There I go, on my way to the 'moral high ground' again!
I cannot understand why anyone with half a brain would wish to waste their life watching some talentless people trying to out-perform each other for their five minutes of 'fame'. Get a life! People will argue that it is popular so there is nothing wrong with it. Thankfully in this country we have always tended to be a little cautious giving people what they want (for example, capital punishment). Television should be about more than entertainment for the masses.
Chris, Sheffield, UK
It is disturbing that senseless shows are being aired simply because companies can afford to air them. We need to worry about the messages that these so called reality TV shows promotes.
Jennifer Ogah , Nigeria
There is nothing "Real" about reality TV. It's set up and planned by TV companies to attract audiences. However, I do agree that these sort of programmes have dragged television down to a low level. Of course you always have a choice, turn off what you don't like. If nobody watched these crass programmes they would no longer be made.
Les, London, UK
Good for you, John! We thought the same, which is why our family got rid of the TV this year and we haven't missed a thing. You can listen to people shouting at each other in other venues if that's your thing, but this is a refuge from endless ratings driven conflict. I appreciate the quality of Radio Four more than ever now.
Mrs M, Cornwall, UK
I'm fed up of everyone criticising reality TV! Like other people, I was bored of watching the same dramas and comedys and therefore welcomed a new genre of television. I love Big Brother and to those who don't like it I have 3 words.... don't watch it!!
James T, Loughborough, Leics
If you don't like reality TV then don't watch it! Everyone has the right to choose what they watch. You sad people who are complaining need to get out more!
I am a university graduate with a MENSA live IQ. I listen regularly to Radio 4 including programmes such as the Today programme and watch various "hi-brow" television programmes. I don't see why I should be called stupid because I also choose to watch Big Brother which I view as light entertainment. My only concern is psychological damage to the contestants themselves in the interest of producing the programme.
I would doubt whether "reality TV" is just that since the people who appear on such programmes are selected specifically for their strange interactions.
Martin, Northern England
At last!! Someone talking sense! The only hope now is that TV companies pay attention... But how likely is that when the rubbish they churn out gets good rating by people who'll watch it "because there's nothing else on?"
Laura, Oxfordshire, UK
John Humphries makes a very serious point, one that seems increasingly missed: what we watch and assimilate shapes our thinking and motives. If that were not true, advertisers wouldn't spend the millions they do. How can we expect a responsible, moral, tolerant society when the media is saturated with the drip, drip message that profligacy equals happiness? Our society is spiralling into a morass fed (amongst other things) by a media willing to pander to every human weakness. Well said Mr Humphries.
Richard, Sleaford, UK
Yes, television has got progressively worse. However, this has led me and my family to watch less TV and start reading books! Surely that's the silver lining in the big grey cloud that is terrestrial TV?
It's all down to taste and it certainly isn't 'harmful' as he puts it. I hate watching sports and I find the 'dramas' on ITV and BBC dire yet I enjoy reality TV. All the people who have voiced their distress over this genre have been, shall we say, of the older generation not reality TV's core audience.
I'm all for reality TV. It means there is so little I want to watch that I am finding all sorts of other interesting things to do instead. I am definitely exercising my option not to watch at all. I'm interested to know, though, how Marc, Northants knows what generation the posters to this site are from. Have I missed something or is he psychic?
Karen, Southampton, England
Television is there to keep the masses amused. As a propaganda machine, it has no equal
D. Marriott, Cleethorpes, England
I'll stand up for reality TV as I can see few are. I found myself becoming very bored with sitcoms and dramas that predictably wrap up any problem in an hour usually with a heavy dose of preaching. Then along came Survivor and the unscripted dialogue and actions of people that could very well be your own family, friends or co-workers was refreshing. I am currently watching Big Brother (American version) and Amish in the City. When they end, as they seem to only run for a few months each, I'll see what else is out there. As is true with many people today my spare time is limited, so when I watch TV I want it to be purely an entertainment escape. That's my criteria. This seems to fit the bill for me.
Suzanne, Texas, USA
I refuse on principle to watch Big Brother and other so-called reality shows not only because they are cheap, tawdry and ultimately boring but mainly because they destroy opportunities for those with REAL talent (writers, actors, musicians, etc) which is a recipe for the destruction of the once greatly admired UK TV industry.
John Cahill, London, UK
John Humphrys should stick with the ultimate reality TV show - the News.
Peter, London, UK
What we see, in reality TV shows, are the product of yob culture. The entertainment is populist and probably unstoppable. It is a medium that will be pursued by production companies that need high viewing figures to maintain commercial viability. This line of thought clearly to me, demonstrates the necessity for the 'BBC' to steer clear of the ratings war if it is to maintain its reputation as a quality service provider.
Bernard Shaw, Redditch, England
You can never please everybody - that is why we have 300 channels to choose from. If you don't like a programme, don't watch it!
Belle Lumply, Sandwich, UK
In praise of John Humphrys. Reality TV is homogenised to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Relentlessly boring trash, discerned in a few minutes of viewing. Never again.
Georgina, London, UK
It's pathetic full stop! If people really do want to sit at home and watch this drivel then we are all in trouble and quite frankly it is about as close to reality as I am from Mars. Well done John Humphrys, I am very pleased that you have spoken out.
Thomas Morley, Bury St Edmunds, England
Hooray for Humphreys! He's absolutely right. I find myself watching less and less TV, because there is less and less of interest to watch. Whatever happened to the desire to inform and educate? Even interesting topics get trivialised out of existence by being jazzed up in utterly irrelevant ways. And as for drama, when are producers going to learn that overdosing on emotions does not improve quality?
Mike Arnautov, Flackwell Heath, Bucks
It's good to hear someone say this. Quite apart from what this "reality" rubbish is doing to TV production values, I'd agree that the almost daily diet of crass stupidity must be having an effect on the way people interact and the amount of respect they pay each other. Society seems rapidly to be losing any degree of courtesy - no wonder when gibbering idiots become famous simply for their idiocy.
Tony Walton, London, England
Uncouth sums it up. In desperate attempts to find something worth watching, happening upon Big Brother whilst flicking through the channels is one big turn off. Who cares what these sub-humans get up to "in the house"? Go and read "Lord of the Flies".
Heather Cooke, Cambs/Lincs border
Please! Somebody give me something interesting to watch! I don't mind the presence of reality TV, but it's getting to the point now where it's dominating every channel.
Josephine, Reading, UK
I totally agree with John Humphreys' comments but what really saddens me are the people who watch this rubbish. The programme makers know there is an audience out there. It's 'tabloid telly', complete rubbish for empty headed people.
Michael Byron-Hehir, Manchester UK
We have so many channels these days, why do we have to have self-appointed TV police that frown on anything fun or a bit low-brow? We have choice, that's what counts.
Looking to a box of tricks to find out what reality is? Talk to your neighbours more and get involved in social work if human behaviour interests you; it's a far more meaningful way to spend time.
Saara, Surrey, England
I agree to a point with Mr Humphrys' comments but it was always going to be the case that with the proliferation of hundreds of new channels, programmers would have to resort to increasingly desperate measures to make up ratings which are harder to obtain than in the past. We have increasing choice these days, flick and find something you find stimulating or switch off and read a book.
Patrick, Sheffield, UK
Well done John Humphrys, this should have been said long ago. The TV companies are only out to make money, they are not interested in society's values. The bigger audience, the better as far as they are concerned.
Sue Gordon, France
You get what you deserve. Stupid programmes for stupid people. Bread and games.
G. Willems, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Love them or hate them, reality TV programmes are here to stay. The general public's obsession with voyeurism coupled with the fact that these programmes are comparatively very cheap to produce means they are essentially a license to print money.
Darren Coleman, Westbury, UK
The shows that I have had the misfortune to come across, I find an insult to my intelligence. Glad someone of note has spoken out, but as they are no doubt entertaining to a lot of people they will probably be with us for some time to come.
Toby Coulson, Cobham, Surrey
Praise be - John Humphrys is so right to condemn 'reality' TV as harmful. He is also right to condemn bad language and behaviour. All power to him.
Alys Woolley, Warwick, UK
I totally agree with John Humphreys! On a recent trip back to the UK, I just couldn't believe how much British television (once the envy of the world) had completely dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. It looks like "Mr and Mrs Shell-Suit" are pulling the strings of the programmers and advertisers alike!! This mind-numbingly boring TV is just a product of the programme-makers' sausage machine...surely anyone with half a brain cell doesn't find this stuff entertaining?
Shane Carlson, Dubai, UAE