Why Big Brother Deserves To Survive Beyond 2018

Originally Published: 22nd August 2018 for HuffPost UK

Nick Leeson enters the house during the Celebrity Big Brother Launch Night at Elstree Studios, Hertfordshire.

Channel 5 has always struggled to create an identity for itself. Its early years were dominated by cheap imports from the US and Australia, alongside entertainment of the more adult variety. In later years the channel shook off its sleazy image and began to rely heavily on the likes of CSI and NCIS in order to build an audience. That was until Northern & Shell came along with a bag full of poverty porn, cheap fly-on-the-wall documentaries and Big Brother.

Ah yes, Big Brother. The elephant in the room. A programme that Channel 5’s director of programming Ben Frow has openly stated that he would rather not have on the channel. Yet it still draws a healthy audience throughout each run. That audience equates to larger advertising revenues, and bags Channel 5 some much needed exposure in what has become a highly competitive market.

The problem is though that, under Channel 5, Big Brother had become so far removed from what made it so great in the first place that the huge audience that it once commanded have voted with their remotes and switched off. Long gone were the chickens, vegetable garden and lack of outside contact and in came a never-ending supply of booze, parties and access to viewers’ tweets – all of which almost guaranteed to cause an argument amongst the housemates. No longer were a group put into the house and left to get on with it while we observed and analysed their actions. Now each and every situation was being deliberately manipulated by the production team in order to engineer the kind of drama that they thought we all wanted.

The whole concept of Big Brother was that it was a social experiment. It is supposed to be reality. Not a scripted drama. In fact, when it’s a the top of its game and not trying to emulate its more modern counterparts, Big Brother is still must-see television and delivers the kind of viewing experience that just isn’t available elsewhere.

Channel 5 just don’t seem to realise what a missed opportunity they have on their books though. Where is the live feed for example? The ability to view the housemates’ actions 24 hours a day was one of the things that made the show so unique and exciting in the early years. I can distinctly remember watching the infamous ‘Fight Night’ of series five kicking off on the live feed back in the day and being absolutely gripped. Even the more mundane moments of the day can make for fascinating viewing – how many of us once sat and watched the housemates sunbathing or cooking or cleaning their teeth? That element of Big Brother has been sadly lost since the show moved to Channel 5 save for a few precious moments per series, usually after midnight. Yet think how the ability to view the house 24 hours a day would generate awareness and interest in the show again. Especially with the ability to share those moments via social media platforms like Twitter.

There is hope however for Big Brother’s future. Despite what some of the tabloid newspapers would have us believe the show hasn’t yet fallen under the axe. And the new production team led by series seven veteran Paul Osbourne are slowly trying to untangle the mess that has been made of the programme over the past few years. Viewers that stuck with the January ‘year of the woman’ series would have noticed that the show started to switch back towards the original social experiment concept with each episode concentrating more on the different conversations and relationships between the housemates than the endless rows and showmances of previous years. Indeed, the series won much deserved praise from viewers for focusing heavily on gender issues throughout its run, with eventual winner Courtney Act making the biggest impact, as well as one of the most memorable entrances in the shows history.

The current ‘eye of the storm’ series is building upon those foundations that were set in January with a real return to form. Despite the whole Stormy Daniels debacle, this particular run of Big Brother has (so far) been gripping viewing. It helps of course that they’ve managed to get the casting pretty much spot on with the right balance of age ranges and personalities. Each and every one of them has a colourful history and a story to tell and it’s fascinating to hear about them in their own words. Nick Leeson talking about his arrest for example or Kirstie Alley discussing her issues with her weight make for some truly interesting and unique television. Big Brother at its best challenges our way of thinking. It makes us see people in a new light. It educates us as well as entertaining us. It’s not just characters from the latest MTV show getting drunk and naked and arguing. Not any more.

Big Brother is as relevant today as it was back in 2000. But perhaps now it needs to shift its focus to a different audience. Rather than trying to chase the younger viewers that it has since its arrival on Channel 5, it needs to start trying to appeal to the audience that it had back at its inception. The audience that were young then, but have now grown up and moved on because of the tacky reputation that the show had acquired. Concentrate on those fascinating conversations. Let any drama unfold naturally without manipulation. Keep focusing on the social experiment and not the showmances.

Do all of that, promote it well and the audience will slowly but surely return to the Big Brother fold.

Big Brother Is Better Off Without Channel 5

Originally Published: 6th November 2018 for HuffPost UK

BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 05: Presenter Emma Willis (L) with Cameron Cole (R) who is crowned winner of Big Brother Final 2018 at Elstree Studios on November 5, 2018 in Borehamwood, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

In what felt like one last flick of the Vs at the programme’s loyal audience, the 19th and final series of ‘Big Brother’ came to a pre-recorded and somewhat hurried conclusion last night. Unlike its previous conclusion on Channel 4 back in 2010 where the show was given a send-off worthy of its legacy, Channel 5 instead chose to push its final visit to the Borehamwood bungalow back to 10:00pm in order to prioritise yet another programme about trains. I suppose you can’t fault their consistency though; after all, every eviction show of the final series fell victim to Channel 5’s current obsession with all things train-related so why should the grand finale be any different?

Perhaps I’m just being paranoid. But as a long-time fan of the original reality television behemoth it’s felt like Channel 5 were determined to make this series fail no matter what. Right from the un-gracious way that the programmes axing was announced on launch day, to the disappointing lack of live feed and frankly ludicrous scheduling, to the shortest and most undignified final in ‘Big Brother’ UK history. Channel 5’s Director of Programming Ben Frow has made no secret in the past of his dislike of the franchise but as a long-time viewer and fan of the show,’ this final series has genuinely felt like 53 days of Mr Frow sticking the boot in where it hurts. As if determined to make the final series fail, and fail hard in order to somehow justify his controversial decision to bring down the axe.

That was the problem with ‘Big Brother’ during its run on Channel 5. They just didn’t know how to treat the beast that they had acquired with the respect that it deserved. Rather than sticking to the original raw reality format that the programme had enjoyed so much success with and thrived on during the early years, Channel 5 instead tried to steer the good ship BB towards the course of other, more contemporary reality shows such as ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ in order to try and attract a new younger audience. Out went the lengthy shopping tasks, interesting discussions and live feeds and in came buckets of fish guts, viewer’s tweets and a steady supply of booze in order to generate arguments and controversy. ‘Big Brother’ was no longer the king of reality television, merely a drunken pawn that had gone off the rails. It wasn’t a social experiment anymore but simply a stage for Viacom to showcase their latest reality TV stars to an influential teenage audience, all hungry for the next batch of ‘Geordie Shore’ wannabes.

That wasn’t what ‘Big Brother’ was originally meant to be about though. The original premise of the show was to put a number of everyday people into a house, film them 24 hours a day and observe how they behave and interact with each other. It was never about the booze-fuelled arguments and controversy that the Channel 5 era has delivered. At some point during the seven-year journey the show simply lost its way. And despite the best efforts of current producer Paul Osbourne and his team it never really stood a chance of recovering with Channel 5 calling the shots.

At this point in time the future is looking somewhat uncertain for ‘Big Brother’. Despite the rumours flying around about Netflix possibly acquiring the show, nothing has been confirmed. Personally I feel the show needs resting for a couple of years now before making a comeback with a broadcaster that is prepared to treat the show with the love and respect that it deserves. One thing that is for sure though is that ‘Big Brother’ is best off as far away from Channel 5 as possible.

‘Big Brother’ WILL get back to you.

Gemma Collins’ ‘Dancing On Ice’ Fall Is No Excuse For Body-Shaming

Originally Published: 28th January 2019 for HuffPost UK

Gemma Collins’ time on ITV’s hit celebrity ice-skating contest has been well documented by both the tabloid press and by social media. Over the past few weeks we’ve heard tales of laziness, lack of commitment and diva-like strops from behind the scenes. This all came to a head last week when, following a somewhat safe performance of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friendthe GC called out judge Jason Gardiner for allegedly selling stories about her to the press, something that Jason himself has since denied.

This weekend however, Gemma managed to go one better and fell over spectacularly during her routine. Twitter immediately exploded in a way that only Twitter could – memes were made, gifs were created and lots of people rushed to rewind their recording devices in order to share the moment for all to see via some badly-filmed phone footage.

Of course someone falling over is going to raise a few laughs. If it didn’t, You’ve Been Framed wouldn’t still be a thing after all. But when you’re laughing at somebody suffering an unfortunate fall in such circumstances, chances are you’re laughing because of what they’ve just done and not because of who they are and what they look like. Remember Total Wipeout? Watching the contestants trying to cross the big red balls all in one go and ultimately failing was hilarious. We didn’t watch because we wanted people to succeed. We watched because we wanted to see people fall flat on their face.

So how is Gemma Collins’ fall on Dancing on Ice any different to that? Well in many ways it’s no different at all. Watching anybody fall flat on their face, especially someone who’s in the public eye is always going to raise a few guilty smiles.

But the reaction on Twitter was about as far away from a bit of gentle piss-taking as you could imagine. Checking into Twitter on Sunday-evening on felt like stumbling into a meet-up group for the crème de la crème of keyboard warriors. Every single one of them eager to stick the boot into the GC for anything other than her ability to ice-skate. Most went down the obvious route of targeting Gemma for her size. I saw one particular tweet that claimed the reason she had fallen over is because she was a “fat mess”. Another suggested that her fall had “caused an earthquake”, while a third proclaimed that “her fall had resulted in the ice cracking.”

These comments, and thousands more like it are wholly unfair and un-necessary. Gemma’s fall had absolutely nothing to do with her body weight and everything to do with a lack of ability and sheer bad luck. I wonder, would the Twitter trolls be so quick to target any of the other skaters in such a way if the same incident had happened to them? Would people be laughing or jeering at the likes of Jane Danson or Saara Alto in the same way if they fell, calling them out for their appearance and mocking them for their size? I doubt it.

Body-shaming is not funny, no matter who it is. Whether you’re mocking someone in the office for being as thin as a rake or you’re taking to social media to laugh at a celebrity for falling over during a TV show. Laugh at them for their lack of ability. Pull them up for their poor attitude and egotistical nature. But don’t laugh at them for their size or their appearance just to make you feel better about your own lack of decent credentials.

Is it time for a Big Brother revival in the UK?

Originally Published: 14th May 2020 for Big Blagger

November 5th 2018. For most people, this was just another typical Guy Fawkes Night. But for 700,000 or so loyal fans, it was the night that Big Brother finally whimpered to an end in the UK.

How could it be that the original reality juggernaut, that achieved a whopping 9.5 million viewers for it’s inaugural final way back at the turn of the millennium, had fallen so far from grace that less than a tenth of its original fanbase could be bothered to tune in to witness its demise?

Many will lay the blame firmly at the feet of the broadcaster Channel 5. After all, it’s common knowledge that a certain Director of programmes at the station held the Big Brother franchise in disregard. Not only were the show’s hardworking production team, and subsequently the fandom made aware of the networks decision to bring the curtain down at the last minute, but the remainder of the run – including the all-important live eviction shows – were played out at 10:00pm or later for the majority of the run. A somewhat strange decision when you consider that Big Brother was still very much one of Channel 5’s most high profile shows.

One thing that should be taken into consideration of course is viewer fatigue, and I don’t just mean through all the late nights brought about by the final series’ start times. At the end of the original run on Channel 4, the magic of seeing a group of people locked in a house and left to their own devices for a couple of months had started to fade, with less and less people tuning in. By the time 2018 rolled around, and after an exhausting three series a year, Big Brother in the UK just wasn’t appointment viewing any more. For the key 16-24 audience that the show had increasingly been trying to aim at during its final years it just wasn’t relevant. They had Love Island for their reality fix, or countless numbers of MTV shows that were far more tightly formatted towards their demographic. Channel 5 tried to take advantage of this by casting familiar faces from these shows in Big Brother. But by doing so they only served to drag the UK franchise even further into the gutter, resulting in the absolute horror that was BB18 and driving even more of their dwindling audience away who just couldn’t stomach what the format had become.

As Big Brother UK dragged itself into 2018, the rumours were already swirling around about its imminent demise. Despite this though, we were treated to what were arguably two of the best celebrity runs in years. Yet they still couldn’t attract the level of viewership that the series had enjoyed in the past. When the axe was dropped at the start of BB19, as sad as it was, it really didn’t come as a surprise. Frustratingly of course, BB19 turned out to be Channel 5’s best series to date. But it was too little, too late.

In the year and a half or so since the house closed its doors for the final time, many, including BBUK’s very own Rylan Clark-Neal have been calling for the show to return. The closest we’ve had so far has been Big Blagger’s live streams of classic episodes. But now Channel 4 have surprised us all by announcing a two-week run of classic Channel 4 episodes, complete with brand new introductions from both Davina and Rylan, just in time for the twentieth anniversary of the show. The reaction to this news online and in the press has been predominantly positive. Although many people – me included – have questioned the absence of any shows from the Channel 5 era. This is most likely nothing more than a simple rights issue, but it is still a shame that we won’t get to enjoy any of the classic moments from the show’s later years – and yes, there were plenty of them.

With all the furore surrounding the run of repeats later this year, many have been speculating about the possibility of a third revival of the show. I think we all know that for there to be even the remotest possibility of that happening, the fortnight of repeats needs to rate well for spin-off channel E4. And I don’t just mean the initial couple of episodes, but the entire run has to be hitting a consistently high average.

Just for example, most programmes on E4 for the week April 27 to May 3rd 2020 – including the consolidated figures from 4OD – manage around the 700k mark, with only one programme that week scraping through the 1 million barrier. At the end of its life on Channel 4, Big Brother was averaging around 2 million viewers and on Channel 5 less than half of that. So, if the repeat run manages to hit an average of around 700,000 to 1,000,000 viewers across the fortnight, that can only bode well for the possibility of a full-on revival.

So, what would a revival on E4 look like?

Well in order to do so you need to take into account a number of key factors. Firstly, E4 skews young in terms of the target audience it hopes to attract. 16-34 to be precise. So, I would expect any revival of Big Brother to do the same. The housemates would more than likely be limited in terms of age-range in order to appeal to the intended audience. In BB19, the age of housemates ranged from 18-31 and I would expect to see a similar kind of age-range going forward. Let’s face it, a younger audience is more likely to engage with a group of people similar in age and with similar experiences to themselves than a fun-sponge like Carole from BB8.

The second thing to take in consideration is the financial implications of a revival. We know that Big Brother in its former home wasn’t exactly the cheapest of programmes to produce, and I would imagine Channel 5, as one of what are considered the five main channels, have a considerably higher programming budget than a spin-off channel such as E4.

Given those budget constraints I would expect any initial revival to be made as cheaply as possible. No extravagant outdoor eviction set for example. A house set purpose built in a large studio that can easily be dismantled between series. More and more product placement in order to offset costs and a shorter series length, closer to the 50 or so days that we were so used to back on Channel 5. Lastly, and possibly most significantly for many people, little to no live feed. At least, not on traditional broadcast television anyway.

If I’m honest, I doubt we’ll be seeing a revival next year. Given the current situation in the world with Coronavirus, programming budgets are being slashed left, right and centre, and money saving is the order of the day. I think it far more likely that we’ll get a revival – dependent on how well received the repeats are – in 2022.

And if that does happen? Well, I would be more than happy to see the producers continue to build on the good groundwork they laid with BB19. A strong, mostly interesting cast. Creative and engaging tasks. An underlying theme similar to the Big Coins that continued throughout the series, rather than being abandoned after a week like so many other themes throughout the Channel 5 years. Letting the storylines build and grow organically. No mean tweets and no unnecessary outside contact.

Is it time for a Big Brother revival in the UK?

Well, maybe. Eventually. If the conditions are right. But for now, let’s just enjoy the memories that both Big Blagger and shortly E4 are giving us, and hope that one day, soon, Big Brother might just get back to us.


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