Wednesday, 2 June 2010

A first - and last* - word on Big Brother

A week today the last series of Big Brother will begin on British television. And I, for one, will be glued to my TV set.

Few shows have divided opinion as much as Big Brother, but whatever you think of it, there's no denying that it made an impact on British Television in the 2000's.

Before BB, reality shows were in the mould of Driving School and Airport. Serial documentaries with a handful of characters grabbing the limelight. Big Brother opened the door to a world where these characters had to compete for attention in an environment where they weren't, even nominally, in control.

No longer was it enough to be a wheel-clamper who could make bitchy remarks to the camera. Now you had to compete for the affection of the public while keeping enough of your fellow contestants onside in order to avoid nomination. And the cameras didn't get turned off at the end of your shift - they stayed on all through the night.

And so a new generation of reality shows was born, from Castaway to Survivor to Shipwrecked, ordinary members of the public could, if they were lucky, launch a career in television. A sub-genre, of which I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here is the most notable was also spawned, in which forgotten stars of yesterday could relaunch their careers.

Although I've always been a fan, although I've not watched every series - in particular Big Brothers 6 and 7 passed me by. I personally enjoyed the first couple of series when the contestants weren't there specifically to launch careers, although both of the first two winners did, of course. These early shows were part gameshow, part social experiment.

These were followed by a stage in which contestants were, for the most part, fame-seekers. Subseqently, there was a phase in which housemates were chosen for weirdness and conflict. The beauty of Big Brother has always been it's ability to re-invent itself year after year - and the golden rule: Big Brother reserves the right to change the rules at any moment.

So I'm looking forward to this year and seeing what's in store. As ever there is a lot of rumour but not a lot of confirmed fact. One thing is for sure, though: the producers will be determined to make the most of it and let the show go out with a bang.


P.S. Where next for reality shows? Well, I suspect the template for this decade may have been laid down by the recent Pineapple Dance Studios on Sky 1. Ostensibly an old-fashioned reality show, it featured regular set-pieces and deliberate interventions by members of the "cast" and production crew. And, in a stroke of genius, had Michael Buerk delivering the voice over in a wonderful dead pan style. Not easy when describing the auditions for Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert as "separating the men from the ladyboys"

*It may not be the last but I do promise not to blog endlessly about it!

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