As it draws to an end, here's my review of the current Big Brother, from the current issue of Private Eye...
(oh, and incidentally, OMG!!!ASH 2 WIN!!!ROFL!!!!DERMOT U R SO LUSH!!!!NIKKI OUT!!!!!!!!!)
What is it with Channel 4 and shows with the word “Big” in the title? Not since they decided the way to recapture the glory days of Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin on The Big Breakfast was to give their jobs to children’s entertainer Rick Adams and swimmer Sharron Davies has a show been as comprehensively and cluelessly mis-produced as the current run of Big Brother, which limps to a close this Friday after more than a quarter of a year on air.
Mistake number one may have been to fill the house with contestants more in need of emergency intervention from social services than exposure on national TV, but that long since ceased being an issue for the channel which has for several years clogged up its schedules with docuscum programmes like Supernanny, Wife Swap and How Clean is Your House. To make the combination so unbearable that three of them walk within a fortnight – even if you disguise one departure as an expulsion, “punishing” a housemate who has spent two days begging to leave by throwing them out – is more problematic. But changing the rules every five minutes in a blatant attempt to manipulate the outcome and still managing to screw things up looks like carelessness.
First twist came with the Golden Ticket, an exciting sponsorship cash-in which allowed an “ordinary viewer” to enter the house – a wheeze obviously inspired by the inclusion of Chantal in the last series of Celebrity Big Brother, with no one apparently noticing that the point was that that time her fellow housemates weren’t ordinary viewers. Frantic trading on eBay saddled the producers with a choice of 35 desperadoes, most of whom had already been rejected as unsuitable for the show at at least one audition. The winner – Susie – had the papers shrieking “set-up” until it emerged that she was exactly as dull, level-headed and determined not to embarrass herself as you might expect any member of the public plucked at random (as opposed to carefully cultivated through several rounds of auditions) to be.
Then came the House Next Door, so obviously dreamed up in a last minute panic that it had to be crammed into the tiny amount of unused square footage on the studio lot and constructed in full earshot of the housemates, who swiftly and unexcitedly deduced that they were to face the same “surprise” twist that had been sprung around the mid-way point of the last two series. This introduced Jayne, a repellent slab of vileness even by Big Brother standards, whose burping, rulebreaking and thoughtless offensiveness swiftly reduced both housemates and viewers to a state of teeth-grinding misery. Having watched their biggest characters (for which read most obnoxious bullies) get voted out one by one, producers were determined to take no chances with Jayne, and safeguarded her residency by putting everyone else up for eviction, confident that this would sift out one of the boring ones – only to watch spoiled brat Nikki, relentlessly pitched as the show’s one bona fide star, get turfed out by an ungrateful public. Berlusconi-like, producers insisted that this clear democratic choice made from a full field of candidates could only mean that the public wanted to see more of Nikki, and threw the entire principle of the show away in favour of “allowing” viewers to make good their mistake and spend even more of their cash voting her back in. Nikki, carefully groomed by her new agent and inculcated in the relative value of magazine deals for loving couples as opposed to singletons, duly declared her love for Pete on re-entry - at the same time as phoneline watchdog ICSTIS announced an official investigation whcih could result in the programme losing its premium-rate facilities and having to refund every viewer able to point to a wasted vote on their phone bill.
So, what did Big Brother achieve in 2006? Well, it proved that someone with Tourettes has just as much right to humiliate himself on television as anyone else, and that reality stars with disabilities can look forward to a future of being treated like small cuddly pets by fellow contestants and media alike (not that this seems to bother Pete himself, who has long since discovered that this is a very effective way of getting girls with big jubblies to let you cuddle them). It also disposed of the widely-held myth that Tourettes is characterised solely by uncontrollable swearing by housing Pete alongside Lisa, a woman so potty-mouthed she induced feelings of nihilistic despair in all viewers over the age of 17. Having done wonders in the campaign for homosexual equality by launching Brian Dowling on a kids TV presenting career, it clawed back much of the ground gained by presenting us with “Paki poof” Shabaz and “Sexual Terrorist” Richard arguing over who was the biggest embarrassment to gay men. It proved that Davina McCall was not just having an off-month when she presented her BBC chat show (quizzing Grace, a noxious bully who had inspired such hatred that the public had actually been gathering at the studios to chant for her eviction for several weeks, she hit her with the Paxmanesque inquiry “where did you buy your shoes?”). It proved that you cannot pad a few minutes of material out to an hour every night, and still have enough left over for spin-off shows – Big Brother’s Little Brother, Big Brother’s Big Mouth, Big Brother’s Medium-sized Idea Stretched To Breaking Point. And it proved that, like the Big Breakfast before it, this is a franchise that has outlived its time, lost its way and squandered the innovation it once possessed. Last week another broadcaster announced that they planned to bid for the format, which comes up for auction this autumn. That sums it up really: Big Brother – So Bad These Days It Could Be on ITV.