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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 May, 2003, 22:51 GMT 23:51 UK
Clock ticks down to Big Brother
Chris Heard
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Host Davina McCall (l) with last year's winner Kate Lawler
Kate Lawler (r) won last year's 70,000 prize
The fourth series of Big Brother is due to start on Channel 4 on Friday hoping to emulate the ratings success of the first three series.

Like it or not, the programme is becoming almost as big a fixture on the UK's summer calendar as Wimbledon or the cricket.

Last year more than nine million viewers turned in to see 22-year-old IT worker Kate Lawler win the 70,000 contest.

Contestant facts
More than 100,000 people requested application forms
All shortlisted candidates were screened by police
All participants are interviewed by psychotherapists and psychiatrists

On Friday, a dozen more unknowns will enter the purpose-built house at Elstree studios in Hertfordshire for their heady share of 24-hour surveillance and instant tabloid glory.

Channel 4 production staff have spent more than six months trying to make sure that series four matches the success of its predecessors.

They have ploughed through more than 10,000 application videos sent in from all corners of the UK before seeing 2,700 would-be housemates at auditions across the country.

Potential contestants have been given a series of tough psychological tests to assess their suitability.

Staff worked through a shortlist of 50 names before selecting the final 12.

Big Brother house
This year the show is going "back to basics"
The housemates' identities will remain a strict secret until the show goes on air.

If any of the names are leaked to the media before they enter the house, replacements will have to be drafted in.

A 12-strong reserve list has also been drawn up to meet any eventuality.

Gigi Eligoloff, the show's executive producer, said the idea of this year's programme was to get "back to basics".

"We want to focus much more on the group dynamic this year," she said.

There's a magical chemical reaction that happens when they all meet - and we have no idea what it is going to be
Gigi Eligoloff, executive producer

"We have brought back the weekly task as a team activity. We're interested in how people are going to work together as a team when they don't necessarily like each other."

The Big Brother house has been redesigned to make it more intimate in a further effort to return to the show's roots.

It follows criticism of last year's series in which housemates were divided by plastic bars into "rich" and poor" sections.

Ms Eligoloff said however the environment was altered, it was the relationships between the 12 contestants that made it compulsive viewing.

She said: "Every year we choose people who are likeable, warm, friendly, interesting and hopefully will capture the public's imagination.

I don't think there's any currency in watching people have a nervous breakdown on television
Gigi Eligoloff, executive producer

"But there's a magical chemical reaction that happens when they all meet - and we have no idea what it is going to be."

She admitted producers were seeking "completely fresh people" in order to avoid similar personalities to previous shows.

But she cautioned against contestants treating the programme purely as a springboard to stardom.

"It isn't a stage for budding presenters, singers and actors," she said.

"It's there for people to be themselves, so we are looking for people who can be honest in front of the cameras."

Big Brother house
Housemates will aim to sleep easy in their beds
Contestants needed to be aware of the intensity of the experience.

"We put them through stringent psychological tests with questions designed to weed out people who are not going to be able to cope with the experience.

"I don't think there's any currency in watching people have a nervous breakdown on television.

"They come in there as a very popular person within their own small group of friends and they could come out as the most unpopular person in Britain."

Back to basics for Big Brother house
02 May 03  |  Entertainment
Kate wins Big Brother
27 Jul 02  |  Entertainment
Big Brother back to original format
01 May 03  |  Entertainment
Big Brother bars bring fury
30 Jun 02  |  Entertainment

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