In May 2019, ITV cancelled their controversial talk show The Jeremy Kyle Show a week after one of their guests tragically committed suicide. Sadly, the news didn’t come as a huge surprise to the public; Kyle was well known for enthusiastically chastising guests for transgressions made in their private life.
The fact that 63-year-old Hampshire man Steve Dymond had been confronted on the programme with polygraph test results that apparently proved his infidelity is thought to have played a major part in the man’s tragic decision to take his own life.
The public outcry was as vociferous as it was immediate. Calls to take the programme off the air were quickly heeded. Even Downing Street commented on the situation, describing it as ‘deeply concerning’. There was no appetite for, to borrow one British judge’s description, ‘human bear-baiting’. We live in kinder times now. At least in television terms, anyway.
It wasn’t always like this.
Anyone who used to guiltily enjoy trashy TV in the nineties will recall the endless stream of ‘out there’ talk shows on offer, mostly imported in from the US. Jerry Springer was the king of the genre, of course. Below him, you had the likes of Geraldo, Maury Povich, Montel Williams, Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael…
The shows were cheap, easy to make and in a country of some 330 million people, there was no shortage of guests willing to be flown over to New York City, Chicago or LA and put up in a hotel for a few days in exchange for putting on a bit of a show
The 1990s were a seedy time for tabloid television with countless low points. The absolute nadir, however, occurred in March 1995.
The programme was The Jenny Jones Show. The episode was called ‘Same Sex Secret Crushes’. The trouble started when guest Jonathan Schmitz wasn’t told that show title. He was invited to appear on the show and clued in about the whole ‘crush’ thing. But it was implied to Jonathan - a heterosexual - that his secret admirer was a woman that he knew.
It was only as the cameras rolled that Schmitz discovered that the person secretly ‘in love’ with him was an acquaintance of his called Scott Amedure.
You can see what happened on the show here in this clip:
Schmitz felt humiliated by the whole thing. Humiliated and angry.
After discovering an explicit note left by Amedure on his car windscreen some three days after the show was filmed, Schmitz went straight out and bought himself a shotgun. He then drove to Amedure's mobile home and shot him twice in the chest, killing him instantly. After murdering Amerdure, Schmitz immediately called 911 and handed himself in to officers at Lake Orion Police Department.
During the 1996 court case, Schmitz’s defence was straightforward and obvious. His attorneys argued that he was driven to kill Scott Amedure because of the humiliation that he’d suffered. They also presented evidence to the judge that Schmitz suffered from depression, citing mental illness as another mitigating factor.
Schmitz's attorney, Jerome Sabbota, said Mr. Amedure's pursuit of Schmitz after the show had continued to the point where Schmitz ‘lost all reason’. He claimed that Schmitz was ‘set off by the note’. Mr Amedure, Sabbota said in court, ‘never let up and he never backed off. He created a situation where any reasonable person would have snapped.’
Schmitz's manhood, so to speak, was insulted on national TV
Prosecutor Donna Pendergast presented a different side of the story. She told jurors during the trial that Schmitz overreacted to what was little more than embarrassment. ‘The only reason that murder is an issue is that Scott Amedure was gay and Schmitz's manhood, so to speak, was insulted on national TV,’ she said.
Schmitz was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to serve between 25 and 50 years in prison.
Schmitz’s team appealed and his conviction was overturned. The case was retried in 1999, but he was found guilty of the exact same charge. His sentence was reinstated. He served a sentence of 22 years and was released from prison on August 22, 2017.
After Scott Amedure's murder and Jonathan Schmitz’s sentencing, his family - somewhat understandably - decided to sue the producers of The Jenny Jones Show, claiming that they should have known about Schmitz's history of mental illness. The family won an initial ruling, with the show being ordered to pay them a not inconsiderable sum to the tune of some $25 million. That ruling was later overturned by a Michigan court, however. The Amedure family received nothing.