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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
French Big Brother faces censors
Loft Story contestants
The five female contestants of channel M6's Loft Story
By Paris correspondent James Coomarasamy

It started off as a Dutch recipe for popular television - take a dozen or so young people, put them in a house together and film their every waking hour.

Now France is the latest European country to have its own version of this highly successful reality television format which in English, at least, is known as Big Brother.

The French version is called Loft Story - and it has been the hot topic of conversation for the past few days.

The French have long had a phrase for it - tele poubelle, or trash TV.

They have even had their own examples of it in the past - a number of "erotic shows" from the 1980s come to mind.

Spiritualism

But the arrival of the French version of Big Brother has turned the issue of dumbed-down television into something of a national obsession.

The show is called Loft Story - a Gallic take on a successful form of reality TV that's probably been on a screen near you already.

The idea is simple. A group of young people live together in a loft - hence the title - and are filmed by no fewer than 26 cameras as they, well, live together - for 24 hours a day.

Selected recordings made by two of the cameras are shown daily on one of France's private, terrestrial channels.

For those after even more reality, the whole punishing daily routine - from aerobics classes to lessons in spiritualism, from discussions about sex to seduction in the swimming pool, can be viewed live on a cable channel.

Cameras placed in the bathroom and bedroom can be accessed - for a fee - on the web.

Eventually, this happy band of exhibitionists begins to diminish - eliminated one by one after a series of games, such as karaoke - and a popular vote.

Only a couple will remain. For Loft Story is - unlike some of its forerunners - a love story.

Rubbish bins

There are other Gallic touches - the loft extension has a chicken coop, so that contestants can have the highest quality eggs and poultry and a vegetable garden.

And - of course - in a country which has never really taken television seriously, the reaction has been predictably lofty.

One leading TV presenter has called it "lowest common denominator television", while a group called Smile You're On TV has called on viewers to place rubbish bins outside the offices of the channel screening the programme.

It does not take a genius to work out the symbolism.

More seriously, perhaps, the governmental arbitor of televisual taste - the Audiovisual Council, is to discuss Loft Story at its meeting on Wednesday.

Who knows - the contestants may be forced off the airwaves before they have had a chance to demonstrate their karaoke skills.

But that is unlikely. Even though some ministers have been critical, most of them are careful to say they are against censorship.

It will be up to the French public to decide whether it wants to watch the antics of constestants such as David, Julie or, Loana - a professional stripper, who spends most of her time in the swimming pool.

On the front page of one newspaper on Monday there was a photograph of Loana and another contestant with the question - Does this shock you?

The answer is, it probably does not really matter.

See also:

16 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Life with Big Brother
24 Apr 01 | TV and Radio
Big Brother contestants muzzled
17 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Dee big winner of Big Brother
08 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Big Brother scores hat-trick
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