Bonfire of Broadcasting Values
BBC1 has launched a new children's series called The Smoke House in which six young children and their parents move into a special house full of cameras and the children attempt to get their parents to stop smoking.
Sounds familiar? Well yes, it's an amalgam of Big Brother and programmes like The House of Agoraphobics.
I caught just the end of Friday's programme, just in time to note that it is made by Endemol, who also make Big Brother and nonsense like Can Fat Teens Hunt?
I declare an interest: I am a smoker. It may be no excuse but I grew up at a time when 'sweet cigarettes' were sold at the kiosk in the local park. When I was a small child one of my favourite Christmas presents was a Junior Smoker's Kit, which included not just 'sweet cigarettes' but confectionery in the shape of pipes, cigars and tobacco. It was all the better because my non-smoking parents clearly disapproved of it.
However, I fully accept that smoking is a Bad Thing and that if children can persuade their parents to stop - in the interests of the health of both - that can only be a Good Thing.
The question is whether this type of exploitative 'reality TV' has any place in children's programming (or in adult programming, come to that).
In recent years, children's channels have proliferated but quality, British-made, original children's programmes have declined to almost nothing. ITV1 has abandoned children's programmes completely. The BBC still makes a few children's dramas, usually comedies, but has now axed both Byker Grove and Grange Hill.
Now it seems that they've decided to copy some of the trashiest formats that infest adult television and inflict them on the under-12s, no doubt claiming that they have an educational value and omitting to mention that they are vastly cheaper to make than original drama.
The Smoke House puts a new twist on the concept of 'pester power', encouraging children to use emotional blackmail against their parents. The child psychologist who works on the series says: "it's hard for a parent to resist when their child tells them 'I don't want you to die'."
What follow-up series can we expect from this?
The Booze House: children persuade their alcoholic parents to stop drinking?
The Fat House: children persuade their overweight parents to stop eating so much?
The Abuse House: children persuade their parents to stop physically or sexually abusing them?
The Pushy Parents House: children persuade their parents to stop forcing them to violin lessons or ballet classes?
The Workaholics House: children persuade their parents to step back from consumer capitalism and spend more time with them?
Jonathan Meades, writing in The Independent, described The Smoke House as "a bit of social engineering masquerading as children's TV".
It's worse than that. It's an absolute disgrace that the BBC should commission such a programme. And to exploit young children in this way is almost as abusive as forcing them to inhale cigarette smoke.
The only smoke in The Smoke House comes from the bonfire of quality children's programmes and decent broadcasting values.