Wednesday, August 16, 2006


And here's my review of last year's BB, also from Private Eye on August 5 2005:

Five summers ago, ten young men and women who were only marginally less famous then than they are now moved into a house in east London, and everyone predicted the end of civilization as we know it.
For the most part, however, the first Big Brother housemates just sat around and chatted. They asked questions about each other's lives. They worked their way through the two books each of them was allowed to bring into the house, before swapping and discussing what they thought of them. One of them occasionally strummed a guitar, and she wasn't even the one that was looking for a record contract.
This, according to then executive producer Ruth Wrigley, was what it was all about : "Bringing people together, forcing them to talk, and work together as a group." And they did. When it emerged that one of them was not only plotting to win the game show they had all forgotten they were playing but had also fabricated the tragic life story they had spent their first night in the house avidly discussing, their feelings of betrayal and wounded solidarity made for one of the most riveting hours of television ever broadcast, a piece of genuine drama beyond the reach of any scriptwriter.
Well, obviously that wouldn't do. The denouement didn't arrive until the fifth week, for goodness' sake. By the time series two's big story, the chaste romance between two contestants, even reached its apex of hand holding the show was nearly over. It was reality TV all right, but the time scale was just too, well, realistic.
Fast forward to this May, when the sixth crop of housemates entered the Big Brother house. The books are long gone (too much mental stimulation, not enough entertainment). The psychologists who used to provide a weekly commentary on body language and patterns of group behaviour are gone (they took up time that could have been filled with more footage of nihilistic shouting). But most disturbingly, the conversations are gone as well. Producers managed to select 16 housemates without the slightest interest in finding out anything at all about each other when they could simply shout about themselves instead.
They were utterly selfish, stupid and incapable of working together even on the rare occasions where they tried. Their only skill lay in starting arguments, about anything at all their right to eat each other's food, to have sex with whoever they wanted in the presence of anyone they wanted, to get leglessly drunk or not be condemned for such "good craic" as putting scabs in each other's food, hurling faeces at one another or sticking wine bottles up their vaginas. Most of the time, they simply argued about the fact that they were arguing. All of which, as far as Channel 4 was concerned, made perfect telly.
Big Brother in its 2005 incarnation has gone far beyond Reality TV. It, and the dozens of other shows upon which Channel 4 quaintly continues to bestow that title, are something else, a genre in their own right. Confrontation TV, perhaps. Or ASBO TV Since foul mouthed mother of eight Lizzie Bardsley was rewarded with celebrity status for behaving in a manner that would be deemed unacceptable in an autistic five year old on Wife Swap two years ago, the commissioning process at Channel 4 (which last month gave us the Nightmares Next Door, a kind of Wife Swap Cubed which piled individually vile households on top of each other until they reached critical mass) seems to consist of "never mind the quality, listen to the shouting".
Station bosses virtuously assure anyone who will listen that this is simply a case of snobby television critics failing to recognise the reality of working class life; but to write off an entire section of society as either yobs or fishwives is as disingenuous as to assume that Derek Laud is a fair representation of all Conservatives, or his fellow housemate Craig the distilled essence of gays.
Of course, none of this matters to anyone save the contestants' families so long as the programmes deliver the ratings. But this year's Big Brother doesn't appear to have done even that. Despite the fact that this summer's series ran for longer, had more housemates than ever before, and featured the tabloids' holy grail of on screen intercourse not once but twice, audiences have been significantly down. With none of the housemates actually capable of communicating with one other, let alone forming relationships, there was no chance of an overarching storyline to encourage repeated visits. You could see Craig throwing a hissy fit at Anthony on Day 21, and he was still at it on Day 74.
As the producers of EastEnders are belatedly discovering, week after week of shouting with no character development does not make for a loyal audience. What Channel 4 seems to have failed to ask itself is this: if these people's only selling point is that they are nightmare neighbours, why on earth would viewers want to keep on inviting them into our homes?

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