Good television is derived from drama and emotion mixed with useful information but it can be easy to step over the line of good taste. This week I encountered a show that went well beyond the realms of decency.
The show, Rapid Response, is one of those fly-on-the-wall reality shows. It screens in prime time before 8.30pm and follows St John Ambulance officers and paramedics as they attend various emergency callouts.
Now there is nothing wrong with the premise of the show and St John is a venerable outfit deserving of the immense public support it gains. A show focused on these community heroes could and should be both informative and entertaining.
However, whoever signed off on the content for Monday night's programme got it badly wrong. The main item featured was a callout to a man who had suffered a heart attack. Nothing wrong with that of course, but the graphic images of people performing CPR, many of which were repeated, along with footage of the body convulsing as electric shock was administered through a defibrillator to restart his heart, went too far.
It seemed gratuitous and invasive, not to mention insensitive to screen such explicit material, especially in prime time. Footage of the life-and-death drama filled roughly 10 minutes of the show, which ran for half an hour including advertisements. It was quite harrowing to watch, let alone experience.
Overkill? Absolutely. Entertainment? Hardly.
Of course the people behind the show can argue legitimately that is is a documentary and you can't accurately document events as they happen by censoring it. That is true but it was clear the man was desperately ill, his fiancee upset. There was no need to repeat the images in the way they were, the point was made and repeating them as they did cheapened the desperate efforts to save the man.
At one point I wondered "what if this poor man dies?" but of course then they wouldn't have screened it. Technically you could argue he did die, after all the show's narrator did talk about him being brought "back to life".
I felt really sorry for the people filmed, even though they must have consented to being filmed and the post-trauma interviews. But then again, who would say no to anyone accompanying the angels of mercy in such dire circumstances? After the event, the gratitude would be so immense few would deny the right to screen it.
As it was, Monday's episode ended with the usual catch-up where it was revealed the patient had suffered brain damage and partial loss of sight. His partner was just happy to have him alive.
But what did we learn from all this? That ambulance officers work hard to save lives, and are highly skilled and underfunded, the latter point emphasised with the post-show reminder of the organisation's funding sources along with details on how we could support them?
Those points could easily have been made in a more sensitive way that didn't rely on that unnecessarily overdone footage. This was not news, it wasn't documentary, it was akin to the worst kind of reality television programming, a genre that has a lot to answer for.
St John is an honorable organisation that has long served the community.
It is deserving of our full support but sadly, was let down by those who made this unfortunate episode.