Hosts Sonia Kruger & Mike Goldman

Reanimating a franchise as polarising and surrounded in controversy as Big Brother was always going to be a massive risk. So many people (wrongly) equate the series with the downfall of modern morality. Given it saw life on on Channel 10 for the first iteration also meant that there were some very clear expectations – fans know what they want out of BB and what they don’t want.

The return series we’ve just seen from Channel 9 managed to tick most of the boxes, while offering some very glaring omissions. It offered so much hope, made so many promises – and yet became the most tightly controlled series in the global franchise’s history. Orwellian in the true sense of what Big Brother represents.

Hosting the series was always going to draw greatest comparison as original host Gretel Killeen delicately trod the fine line between school headmistress and chief headkicker while keeping what is a live televisual circus on the rails (no, we’re not going to mention the year “those two” hosted the series – they don’t even count). The announcement that a recently-defected-to-Nine Sonia Kruger was going to take her sparkly microphone to the Dreamworld ampitheatre made a whole mess of sense: she had lots of experience with live TV during her time on Ch7’s Dancing With The Stars; she was known to have a rapier wit (also displayed on DWTS); and who else in the current television landscape could hold it all together while looking as stunning as the host would be required to be? Big ticks to “Kruges” as she settled in quickly and owned the stage during the live shows.

Including Mike Goldman as narrator for the shows was crucial to bridge the gap between the former home on Ch10 and this new iteration. It just wouldn’t have been the same to hear anyone else’s voice tells us “it’s morning in the Big Brother house, and the housemates are sleeping in after a big night”. That Goldman had no other opportunities with this series is indeed one of the crucial mistake this series made – Goldman as host of Big Brother Up Late for past series brought his obvious hosting and comedic skills to the fore and the audience missed that this year.

The early promo intimated the BB House would be filled with “different kinds” people – the kind we’d not seen in past iterations. People of all ages. Not just the vacuous pretty boys and girls we’d seen before.

Blatant. False. Advertising.

What we got instead was a cast directly from Channel 9 central casting – a group of WASP-ish twentysomethings that had the token blackfella and the token gay who, on the whole, proceeded to find every opportunity to pair up and pash on. BUT NOTHING MORE THAN THAT BECAUSE WE’RE PG RATED! WHO WILL THINK OF THE CHILDREN?! The “secrets” challenge we were teased with was over inside the first fortnight and offered no real insight into the housemates for fans to connect with – in fact it took a number of weeks for any of the HMs to really reveal their true colours as they week after week singled out Estelle as the source of all their pain yet her resilience to the bullying so clear from some HMs (“meepers”, anyone?) made her a fan favourite and saw her make it to the final three.

Ensuring BB was going to be a family friendly affair meant a PG rating had to be adhered to. This also meant that anything and everything that went on in the house that wasn’t PG content never saw the light of day. Nobody saw Estelle & Ryan/Angie & Josh/Ava & Josh/Lalya & Sam/Michael & Estelle (the latter the most curious pairing of the lot generated within the house) get up to anything but some cuddling and kissing… and we’re supposed to think that’s as far as it went? Yeah, right. The sheer nature of this “peeping tom” television meant fans expected to see what happened late at night, what happened at shower time, what happened when the conversations got more ribald than “uh-oh [insert name here] has a crush on [insert other name here] – SIGH”.

That said, the way that the BB production team dealt with the sudden death of HM Josh’s brother is to be applauded. While it could be argued that it’s BB and we should be able to see everything that goes on in the house, allowing Josh to meet with his parents in private – no cameras – and have the news broken to him AND to let the HMs meet with him after he’d decided to leave and share their condolences with in him private – again, no cameras – was a smart move and continued to distance the series from the expectations that the series would play to the most base expectations and exploit anyone involved in the show.

Twitter and Facebook were but a glint in their creator’s collective eyes when the last series of BB aired in Australia, so their inclusion in engaging with the audience was going to be key to the added success and longevity of the show. The Facebook page was popular enough (though comments were tightly moderated) but it’s the Twitter engagement that was most disappointing – the two accounts, one offering an unabashed live account of what was actually happening in the house (as close as we got to a livestream) and the other a direct promotional account hyping the upcoming eviction or Daily Show, didn’t do much more than offer noise. Once daylight saving kicked in it added an even more interesting dilemma for the producers – the show, filmed in Queensland, was beamed live into East Coast southern markets but delayed into the very state that produced it. While the main Twitter account had promised no spoilers it very quickly fell into the trap of dropping hints or engaging in conversations that revealed eviction results – a massive no-no considering in the latter part of the series it had fans in five different timezones hanging on it’s every update. Great improvement is required in the show’s social media engagement for future seasons of BB to consider it worthwhile.

Winner Ben proposes to his long time partner Ben during the Big Brother Australia 2012 finale.

It was a MASSIVE error in judgement to not offer any form of livestream or subscription mobile service to fans. Smartphone penetration into the consumer market is higher than ever – the last time BB was on air there was no such thing and interested parties could sign up with a telco and get the BB livestream delivered straight to their phone (such as the quality of the picture was). Now that we have the ability to watch HD quality video in the palm of our hands it was reasonable to expect that there’d be a webpage or optimised mobile stream to be able to view everything going on in the house, albeit on some form of delay for editing/controversy purposes (turkey slap anyone?). Nada. Zip. Nuthin’.

Why there was no Big Brother channel is also beyond me. This crazy 21st century world we live in allows us to now have 16 free-to-air channels beamed into our homes, yet Channel 9 couldn’t see fit to petition the Office of Herr Conroy to allow them to have the spectrum to offer a channel running BB 24/7. The show is built for this kind of broadcasting!

All in all, Channel 9 played it way too safe, and the ratings reflected that. The eviction and nomination shows often popped above the magic million mark, but not always (like they would have wanted them to) – and it was almost always beaten by Ch7’s Sunday Night, it’s direct competitor in the 6:30pm Sunday timeslot. The show often tapered very quickly through the week so that by Friday often fewer than 650,000 viewers would be watching the 7pm Daily Show, and very quickly within the season it was being beaten by either Home & Away or (heaven forbid) ABC News. Sure, it opened and closed big, and may have averaged over one million viewers across all episodes, but there’s a lot of eps that rated nowhere near highly enough to validate claims it was a complete success.

Though it’s yet to be announced by the network, there is no question Big Brother will return to Channel 9 in 2013. While Ch9 & Southern Star execs may be sitting around patting themselves on the back for a show well done serious thought needs to be given to how they expect an audience to return if what is offered in the coming year resembles the product offered in 2012. The saving grace for the series this year was likely the “token gay” Ben’s overall victory and his proposal to his boyfriend during the final show – a reminder that it’s people being real and uncontrolled that is what fans of Big Brother actually want to see.