From Eye 1084, July 2003
Week seven in the Big Brother house, and the show continues to provide page after page of newspaper coverage, largely devoted to how no one is interested in it any more.
But for all the doom-mongering amongst credulous hacks with a hotline to the Channel 4 press office, ratings remain consistent with last year’s series, and considerably above those of the first two. Its average audience, around the five million mark, is double what Channel 4 usually expect even for their most popular programmes, and on June 30th the show even drew level with ITV during Saturday night prime-time.
What is causing panic at Horseferry Road is a massive down-turn in the number of people who can be bothered to “interact” with the show by voting contestants out. Last year newly installed text facilities, alongside the usual phonelines and digital voting services, pulled in a profit of some eight million quid for the station. This year there have been on average 40% fewer votes cast in the weekly evictions - and the bank balance is looking considerably less healthy.
The obvious reason for this is that the viewing public are suffering from interactivity fatigue: post-Pop Idol, every second programme from This Morning to Tonight now demands participation in a viewer poll, competition or other premum-rate scam, and the great British phone bill-payers have simply had enough. But to admit this would mean confessing that almost every programme “concept” that has been comissioned in the last two years - many of which haven’t even appeared yet - has been a horrible, greedy, short-sighted mistake.
So instead Channel 4 has blamed the housemates, and instructed producers Endemol to inject a bit of life into Big Brother in any way possible. Enter Lisa, a welsh wannabe who declares her “ultimate dream would be to be a soap actress”, whose mother claims she would do anything to get on television, and who is quite happy to claim to be transexual in the knowledge that the tabloids (encouraged by the programme’s PR team) will go wild. In other words, exactly the sort of fame-seeker that Channel 4 instructed producers to avoid like the plague this year, claiming that it was time for the programme to go “back to basics”. Enraged Endemol staff have lost no time in pointing out that the only reason the show has been so boring this time around is that they delivered exactly what they were asked for.