Delivering a show like Big Brother in the age of social media and two-screen television viewers offers so much potential. The opportunity to engage with fans immediately; get their feedback and input on the storylines developing within the Daily Show; the chance for fans to watch the Housemates at all hours, obsessing over relationships strengthening and crumbling. The internet could be abuzz with discussion of the minutest detail over who said/did what to whom. Somewhat ironically… it’s not.
What we are instead seeing is a truly Orwellian Big Brother experience. Ultra-sanitised, we get only what the producers want us to see, metered out in 30-90 minute chunks daily (plus a few 2-3 minute chunks as website-only content on the side). Audiences were promised Housemates that didn’t fit the mould of past iterations of the show – reinforced by an ad suggesting pretty, young things and posers would not be welcome, and yet we have a group of WASP-ish humans where the oldest Housemate is 32 and they rave on like their life experiences are earth-shattering when they are, at best, lucky to be a mild tremor.
In an age where a majority of viewers would have at least one smart device accessible to them 24/7 and portable data plans are commonplace, there is no accessible livestream of the house (unlike the BB of old).
There is no Uplate show which often revealed the Housemates at their most chatty. There is no adults only version of the show. The challenges are hit and miss. The much promoted secrets task was over in two weeks with a whimper (though it did give us a hint of insight as to who the Housemates really are). Try as BB might to make it seem real the Housemates saw through ‘House vs House’ twist at its surprise reveal to them and the scepticism remained throughout the entire challenge. Selected tweets on screen during an episode reveals the “depth” of social engagement. An intruder enters the house knowing full well what’s been going on. The Housemates have been encouraged to bond together which leads to limited opinion sharing or conflict over issues large or small. Happy Housemates that all get along with each other for the most part do not good reality TV viewing make.
What we see on our screens is PG-rated programming that is devoid of depth of personality, lacking engagement socially, and has failed on it’s core promise of diversity within the cast.
Sure, it’s only Big Brother. As a social experiment there’s still the potential to turn things around. For all the group-building/bonding activities that have taken place there may twists to come which turn Housemates on each other. For the vacuousness and posing from the Intruder(s) they may have their own diabolical task to perform. It *could* get more interesting. It HAS to get more interesting. Where’s the real endurance challenges that force them to work in shifts overnight? Why is there so much laying around? Are the Housemates all simply using this as a chance to get an FM Breakfast radio gig?
By reducing the different contexts fans get to see the Housemates (i.e. only through the Daily/Nomination/Eviction shows) it lessens the connection they have with the Housemates. Why did people invest in Ben (S01) or Peter (S02) or Reggie (S03) or Trevor (S04) as winners? It’s because we got to know who they were in the many and varied situations the house presents. Reggie’s revelation that she honestly didn’t want to go back to her old life because she feared going back to being the same person she was still stands as one of the most revealing and integral moments in the history of the Australian series – EVERY SINGLE PERSON watching that moment knew what she meant and how she felt and they loved her a little more for saying it out loud.
Sonia Kruger is doing a valiant and commendable job as host. Calm under pressure and always dressed immaculately she brings together the craziness of the live events and handles the pressure with aplomb. It’s no mean feat to read an autocue while you’re managing a large audience as the director is screaming in your ear to get the crowd to shut up so you can cross to the House. Kruger is also willing to engage with the Housemates and it’s clear the ‘brood mother’ mentality is well-ensconced in their psyche when they meet her on stage at their eviction. Including Mike Goldman as the narrated voice of the show was intelligent so as to provide a link to past series for older fans. No other faceless voice is as connected with a television series and he delivers gravitas and gags en pointe as the script calls for them.
Big Brother isn’t struggling in the ratings but it’s not consistently smashing them either. The show is a big investment for Ch9 (7 hours a week or programs and counting) and while it’s clear they’re working with a tight budget the production team are delivering a solid package. Sadly, the compromises are showing through the cracks and it’s being realised in moderate numbers received in every morning’s OzTAM overnight figures. What could Big Brother on Channel 9 have been? We’ll not know, and depending on how the remaining 10 weeks of the series is welcomed by the television viewing audience – we may not get to see in future years either.
Channel 9’s Big Brother gets a C minus – must do better.
Big Brother Australia – Sun 6:30pm, Mon-Fri 7pm, Ch9