A new era of Big Brother

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Published on

October 18, 2023
Time to read: 4 minutes

When Big Brother launched last century it was totally new and authentic. Contestants had no idea that Big Brother would pull in huge audiences, and acted accordingly: some contestants were comfortingly humdrum feeding chickens and reading books; and some, like Nasty Nick focussed on the end prize (as opposed to any lasting celebrity). This led to him claiming his partner died in a car crash (she didn’t), and trying to rig the vote process. Consequently, when there was drama it was compelling and intense because it was both unreal and unscripted. 

This wasn’t Big Brother’s USP though – its USP was that viewers got to judge who stayed, who went, and who won. In a world before social media, this was totally new – binding the audience into a narrative that it helped dictate. 

Big Brother faded for two reasons: 

To freshen up the show, and mitigate against contestants trying to game the format, Big Brother added elements to the show to up the ante; evil Big Brother; secret housemates; sexy housemates; orgies of booze. It became a home for show-offs and try-hards rather than letting viewers see real people

Contestants became media stars themselves. This idea that reality and celebrity overlap led to the launch of structured reality. Why give anonymous exhibitionists a space to shine, when there are similar people out there making waves in their own communities.

So why bring Big Brother back? Well it was enormously successful, and it was the original reality show so the brand has cache. And presumably producers think they can recapture some of the magic. But as Ruth Wrigley, producer of the original Big brother said in the Guardian, it needs a big idea at its heart to convince people to come. 

The Big Idea

There’s three areas where the big idea can come through: premise; people; production. We watched the first episode and from this we’re not sure what it’s purpose is.

  1. Premise – The press said it was going to be like Big Brother used to be but nicer … but what does that mean? Big Brother’s uniqueness was in letting viewers judge. They get to judge everywhere now.

“Its USP was that viewers got to judge who stayed, who went, and who won. In a world before social media, this was totally new.”

So why are the contestants there? Is it a journey of growth; is it about modern Britain and its different parts; is it to test the limits of human endeavour? It feels very low concept compared to shows like Married At First Sight; SAS Who Dares Win; Race Across the World – all shows with a tangible purpose linked to contestant growth. We have to guess because we’re never told by the presenters or Big Brother.

“An upper mid Air BNB that you’d think about as the stag venue for a second tier mate’s stag party for his second wedding. Where’s the luxury?”

Currently the show is about winning a prize – and although £100k is a nice amount it’s hardly Who Wants To Be a Millionaire…

  1. People: The presenter double header might have worked better if the launch was live, but it wasn’t. The contestants themselves are ‘diverse’ but also self-selecting. 99% of people would pay not to go into a house like that without a good reason- there is no reason given, so what we are left with are a set of familiar ‘reality’ suspects – attention seeking, shrieking and already creating cliques based on haircuts, and jacket choices. 
  2. Production: Well, it was a pre-record – the whole thing about Big Brother was that it was a bit gonzo, a bit out there, a bit different. Everything felt a bit middle of the road. That extends to the house too … an Ikea gingerbread house, with an astroturf lawn and a small hot-tub. An upper mid Air BNB that you’d think about as the stag venue for a second tier mate’s stag party for his second wedding. Where’s the luxury? I know they want to get away from the fakeness of Love Island – but surely you can get more normal people in a more luxurious place. 

Ultimately, I may be proved wrong, but from the launch of the new series Big Brother is relying on nostalgia and heritage rather than any big, new idea … let’s see what happens over the course of its run. 


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