Farage on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ – ITV’s bungle in the jungle
ITV takes the low road in hiring Nigel Farage for I’m a Celebrity… Get me Out of Here! Giving this political figure that kind of primetime coverage is worrying.
If you thought last year’s show featuring disgraced health secretary Matt Hancock’s attempt to rehabilitate his tarnished image was bad, this move takes the proverbial biscuit.
Announced within days of crypto-fascist mobs attacking police after Faragiste former Home Secretary Suella Braverman accused them of sympathising with left-wing protesters, one wonders what is going on in ITV’s comms department.
This Is A Low
Of course, some (those who did the deal) will see securing Farage as a stunning ‘Coup de Theatre’ on the part of director of television Kevin Lygo and his reality chief sidekick Paul Mortimer. After all, the line-up without him looks distinctly Z-list, including as it does Josie Gibson, Sam Thompson, Jamie- Lynn Spears, Fred Sirieix, Nella Rose, Marvin Humes, Nick Pickard and Danielle Harold. Not exactly a Brains Trust, at least on the face of it.
Grace under fire
And food writer Grace Dent, who really should know better, as she is already being shredded on Twitter/X by fans for her decision to take part in the show.
But the fact remains Dent is probably the only one of the contestants with the ability to call out Farage on his bullshit — if she will risk the inevitable pile on by his myrmidons.
Forget comfort eating, Grace is heading to Australia for a whole different kind of dining experience! 🕷️🐍🦗
The heels are off, the boots are on… so let’s get behind her and show some love! Who is in #TeamGrace? 💚
— Grace Dent (@gracedent) November 13, 2023
Others, possibly a majority, will see the stunt as a cynical, rather squalid attempt to boost ITV1’s ratings. The once-lauded Love Island suffered its lowest ratings in five years in January, before autumn’s big hope, the rebooted Big Brother, witnessed a dramatic fall in audience after the launch novelty subsided.
Farage’s primetime appearance is also a pre-Christmas invitation for viewers to refight the Brexit vote in their living rooms. How very seasonal.
Perhaps ITV research has discovered a high percentage of Leave voters in the likely audience and are pandering to this segment of society, which wouldn’t altogether surprise me.
As an amateur historian, Lygo, who in 2022 published The Emperors of Byzantium, is undoubtedly well aware of NBC’s normalisation of Donald Trump via The Apprentice and the dire consequences of giving demagogues an entertainment platform to spout their bile.
With a UK general election looming in 2024, the decision to gift the ever-ambitious Farage an audience of millions is worrying at the very least.
If ITV has to have him, why not parachute James O’Brien in to provide the balance that the likes of Jamie-Lynn Spears (who is unlikely to have even heard of Farage) can’t (or won’t)?
But I get the impression that he doesn’t give a toss, and is actually rather amused. After all, he’s got away with it so many times before, what’s one more provocation to add to the list, which will probably be accompanied with a by now trademark glib non-apology for any offence caused?
But if I was ITV CEO Carolyn McCall, I would be seriously concerned about the optics of having Nigel Farage as the star of the biggest yearly event in the channel’s calendar.
Given the distinctly underwhelming performance of ITV1 in recent months, it also raises questions over whether Mr Lygo is the right person to decide the programming slate.
Stephen Arnell began his career at the BBC, moving to ITV where he launched and managed digital channels. He continues to consult for streamers and broadcasters on editorial strategy. He currently writes for The Spectator, The Independent, and The Guardian on film, TV and cultural issues. He is also a writer/producer (including Bob Fosse: It’s Showtime for Sky Arts) and novelist.