(Note: To read an article condemning ‘Big Brother’ — written by another of our TV critics — click here.)
Big Brother is old school reality TV; a basic, raw, and largely unmanipulated dinosaur of a show that has been imitated but never topped.
Thirteen years on, it still looks fresh. In a TV genre of heavily-edited, scripted, and phonified programming, Big Brother comes off as delightfully simple and naïve; a Seinfeldian reality-show-about-nothing.
I can just hear creator John de Mol at the pitch meeting back in the late nineties. ‘How about we film a bunch of people living in a house together for three months? Just see what happens? It’ll be like a zoo exhibit, but with humans? That’d be fun, right?’
I’m not sure I would have agreed back then, but someone in Dutch TV did and the rest is international TV history.
Imperfect TV history, for sure. For Big Brother can occasionally be as exciting as watching paint dry (or watching someone brush their teeth or make dinner, as is often the case in the BB house). But that’s sort of the point. This is raw, mostly live TV (always live on BB’s internet feed). It is what it is. 24-7. They ain’t making it up.
Well, mostly not. When Big Brother’s houseguests try to perform for the cameras – creating phony conflicts while sounding off in the Diary Room – it never works. After a month or so, those facades slip away to reveal…gasp…a real person. Sometimes a real, ugly people. Or a real crazy, violent person (there has been a number of disturbing incidents over the years).
Not surprisingly, the least interesting part of Big Brother is the stuff the producers edit and manipulate – the highlight reel, the silly challenges for food or privileges, and the eviction of houseguests. It’s like the game show portion of Big Brother in which everyone gets a chance to show off. It’s also the most familiar and ho-hum.
It’s no surprise that Big Brother has become an international hit – with more than 45 versions of it airing around the world. Its concept is basic, primal and easily understood in such disparate places as Poland, India, Britain, Brazil, Africa and, coming soon, Canada. There’s no cultural disconnect. No irony. No lost-in-translation moralizing. It’s just people. A house. And time.
Think of it as the TV equivalent of soccer. A ball. A field. Some feet. It all adds up to the biggest thing in international sports.
Gosh. Did I just compare Big Brother to soccer? Not sure I’m helping my argument but what the heck? In for a penny…
One might have assumed Big Brother would fade away as TV networks upped the ante on reality shows with ever-increasing drama, contrived situations and…well…complete fiction. But it hasn’t. Big Brother goes on. Like Survivor – which owes a huge debt to BB – the show seems unaffected by any alteration in audience taste or TV trends. You might like that fancy martini drink on occasion, but inevitably you’ll come back to good ol’ beer.
Oh crap. Soccer now beer? Better wrap it up before the metaphor has me comparing Big Brother to french fries and gravy (which never goes out of style, I might add). Damn it. Too late.
Big Brother – the American version – returns to TV July 12 on Global.