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Trisha Goddard Show axed by Five – a case of media cutbacks or something else?

January 12th, 2009

Dr Petra

Well known talkshow host and counsellor Trisha Goddard’s television chat/advice show is being axed with the loss of over 85 jobs according to today’s news.

Goddard’s morning show
on Five has been running for several years. Before that it was part of ITV’s morning schedule. The format is pretty standard. Couples or families in dispute over various issues – most commonly questions of fidelity and paternity – discuss and argue their problems on stage with input from Goddard, studio audience members and expert input, bodyguards are always on standby. Typical approaches to solving problems include DNA and lie detector tests and counselling (although what that entails is not always clear). As with other programmes of this kind the format is presented as advice and entertainment, while the viewing audience is invited to enjoy the misery of others – very often those who represent the poor, the uneducated, the unemployed, those with mental health problems or learning difficulties (often exacerbated by drugs and/or alcohol).

Unlike many other shows Goddard does have counselling qualifications and her approach is less confrontational than other programmes. Rumour has it she left for Five when ITV wanted her show to become more confrontational and similar in format to some US programmes which encourage more direct physical and verbal confrontation from guests, audience members and presenters. Colleagues who have appeared on the programme have commented on Goddard’s professional approach, awareness of her own boundaries and qualifications, and genuine concern for her guests.

Years ago I was asked to appear as a guest expert on the show (when it was still on ITV). It was a programme about erectile dysfunction and the programme makers wanted to give couples with sex problems Viagra, send them off to a hotel, and see them the next day and find out what happened. I explained this wasn’t a very good idea since if a couple had deep seated problems this approach may not ‘fix’ it and could leave them feeling more anxious. If the problem did appear to be ‘fixed’ so easily it might also mislead the viewing audience to think a pill and a hotel room would solve any problem. I suggested if they wanted to do this idea justice they could get people with problems, refer them to appropriate care (psychosexual counselling, medical support etc) and see them again later to find out what happened, but that didn’t fit with the filming timetable.

I made my excuses and didn’t participate although I did see the resulting programme where an aromatherapist and hypnotherapist were wheeled on to give advice to various couples, one of whom had the surname ‘Wood’ – and of course the joke was that Mr Wood couldn’t actually ‘get wood’. I was glad I’d not joined in that particular show.

This example is partly the problem with Goddard’s programme and those like it. People with genuine problems need help, and there’s a wider viewing public who also need advice. Because of the format restrictions and competition with other programmes the approaches to addressing issues are not usually based within a standard therapeutic format (particularly the use of lie detectors or body language experts). This means people who are qualified and who could give help are put off appearing on these shows, while those who may be less qualified or professionally governed can join in. It means those who might be able to offer input and apply the ethical breaks are not there when they’re needed. Ultimately opportunities for giving advice are lost.

I’ve watched Goddard’s programme over the years and found it has altered in tone somewhat as despite resisting some of the more confrontational approaches of other shows it has still moved more towards fiery exchanges and rooting out liars and cheaters. I felt in the past the programme did at least try and provide some attempt at solving problems and showing effective communication strategies.

It’s easy to dismiss shows of this kind as daytime trash, featuring and catering for an audience of unemployed chavs. It’s very easy to mock those who appear who seem to be picked to appear inarticulate, overweight, or suffering from various personal problems. Very often I hear from practitioners working in therapy or mental health who argue the shows are just a joke and nobody takes them seriously. But if you are poor, uneducated, and have limited opportunities in life where do you go for help when things go wrong? You can’t pay for counselling yourself – that’s a very middle class luxury. You turn to the show you’ve seen on the telly as you think that will help (plus you might get to be on TV too and stay in a hotel, both of which are attractive incentives).

Until we wise up and appreciate these programmes serve as a resource to the many people out there who can’t communicate effectively and assertively and are struggling to manage complex problems in their lives we will continue to do many people a disservice. Rather than relying on confrontational programming shows that can create real personal and community change are required instead. But that doesn’t make for good TV, does it?

Sadly there’s been a real shift in programming of this kind with shows Jeremy Kyle (UK) and Steve Wilkos (US) presenting a highly neo conservative format where guests with varying kinds of (often pretty serious) problems are wheeled on to be hectored by the presenter and audience. Frequently exchanges border on harrassment and bullying and while programmes always have a counsellor mentioned there’s no real evidence of the skills of those involved.

Moreover there’s no evidence that humiliating and shouting at people will make them change their behaviour or achieve a desired outcome. Worryingly there’s even been cases where problems are not solved by being on such programmes resulting in violence and further disputes experienced by those who’ve appeared on such shows once they’ve returned home. To my knowledge the actual impact of such programmes have never been independently completed, again probably because shows aren’t taken seriously. It would be good to know whether and how programmes like this do work.

The reason for cutting Goddard’s show is explained as cash, but I’d put money on it being more than that. The programme, though not without its faults, does not go anywhere near as far as most of its competitors on other channels. It’s not perfect, but it does seem to abide by some ethical standards. And as a result viewing figures are down and channel bosses probably want something more. Don’t be surprised if Goddard’s show is axed, then replaced by a similar format but with a show that’s a whole lot more confrontational.

I find it worrying and depressing. Shows like this could serve a purpose, but currently don’t. Moreover they’re moving increasingly towards highly violent and judgemental formats, with baying audiences and hosts who have little or no formal qualifications for the job. So even though I think Goddard’s programme wasn’t without its problems, I’m sad to see it go. It is the last of the more reasonable talk shows and the future format for such programming is more gladitorial combat, humilation and bullying. All in the name of ‘self help’.

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