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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 21:56 GMT 22:56 UK
More than a gameshow?
Big Brother
Big Brother contestant Craig has scooped the 70,000 jackpot. What next in the quest for ratings gold?

In the 60-odd days since 10 people disappeared into an east London house fitted with microphones and cameras, millions of Britons have become shameless net-curtain twitchers.

Channel 4's all-seeing-eye television show has afforded the nation a chance to gossip about the neighbours.

Mel's eviction
Anti-flirt: Melanie's crime was to play the coquette
Except these neighbours don't live next-door.

These people are the nation's neighbours - anyone with a television or access to the internet can offer an opinion on their antics. And as an added bonus, if we don't like them, we can vote them out.

Friday marked our final chance to pass judgement on the remaining contestants' characters - Craig was plucked from the house to return to the 70,000 richer. C4 hoped to rack in record numbers of viewers for the final showdown.

But what happens when it's all over? Will the conversations around the photocopier dry up?

Television commissioning editors and programmers hope not. A second series of Big Brother is virtually guaranteed. In the meantime, there's the BBC's Castaway and Channel 5's Jailbreak.

Addictive viewing

Veronica Taylor, the television and special projects officer at the British Film Institute, says such programmes are addictive.

"I'm sure some people will suffer withdrawal, but I don't quite understand why. It's been a huge talking point in our office, as it has in most offices.

"But unlike the soaps, it's an infatuation rather than a long-term love affair."

Darren and Craig confronmt Nick
Viewing figures peaked when the housemates rumbled Nick's scheming
Big Brother's appeal is dependent on the personalities, she says.

"The [viewing] figures have dipped since the huge hysteria around Nick [who was thrown out for cheating]. We all knew something was missing from the mix.

"Now it's finishing, people are coming back to it to see who wins. It's been a hugely unifying experience in an increasingly fragmented society."

When the show started, commentators and viewers alike were taken somewhat by surprise by the show's success.

"It's one of those shows that you felt awkward - not quite ashamed - to find that you'd taken seriously enough to have quite heated conversations about the characters, about the ethical issues thrown up," Ms Taylor says.

The BFI itself has been caught off-guard - when deciding the programme of the institute's upcoming television festival, the organisers decided not to bother holding a session on reality shows.

"That was back in May and June, before the show even started. Now we wish we were doing Big Brother."

Ratings gold

Ms Taylor predicts a rash of Big Brother-clones - shows featuring round-the-clock coverage of real people in an extraordinary situation - in the same way that the first docu-soaps resulted in schedules packed with vets, interior designers and airport staff going about their daily lives.

Jailbreak: Ten people competing to escape first
"This genre will have its moment in the sun - I give it a couple of years."

Ever since Channel 4 secured the rights to reproduce the Dutch original, commentators have been split into roughly two camps as to the nature of the programme: is it a social experiment, or the lowest common denominator of televisual voyeurism?

Neither, according to anthropologist Desmond Morris.

In Friday's Guardian, he takes a clear-eyed look at the show's formula of overlaying the minutiae of everyday life with populist psychobabble, and concludes that it is merely "a highly entertaining way of passing the odd half-hour during the summer evenings".

Put more simply, as the housemates have chanted during the weekly eviction nominations, "it's only a gameshow".

Very few scripted storylines could match the Nick drama

Veronica Taylor
Any true voyeurs watching Big Brother will have been sorely disappointed.

We've glimpsed Darren getting soapy in the shower and Tom over-heating while massaging Mel - and that's as titillating as it got.

Instead, millions tuned in to cackle with glee as the housemates accused Nick Bateman of cheating. He departed in disgrace, with tears in his eyes.

"Very few scripted storylines could match the Nick drama. That was truly Shakespearean, it was amazing to watch," Ms Taylor says.

"It was a terrific bonus for the producers - it fell between just being a gameshow and just being voyeurism."

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See also:

15 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Craig wins Big Brother
15 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Judgement day for Big Brother three
13 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Wary bookie ends Brother bets
13 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother reveals all
07 Sep 00 | Entertainment
US Big Brother bribe fails
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