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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Big Brother goes back to basics
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

As the fifth Big Brother series on Channel 4 comes to an end, BBC News Online looks at whether the format has passed its sell-by date.

Channel 4's Big Brother was recently voted one of the most innovative programme genres of all time, by a panel of TV experts for Radio Times.

The full line-up of Big Brother 5 contestants

But innovation can quickly become dated if it does not continue to evolve and push boundaries.

After a moribund series in 2003, Channel 4 has been under pressure to restore interest in the format.

Their success can be determined in three ways - ratings, the numbers of eviction votes and tabloid press interest - and on all three counts the latest series has been a success.

The fifth series has averaged 4.9 million viewers, up 9% on the same period last year, although the peaks are not as high as in previous years - pointing to a series which has developed a core audience but is no longer able to generate the excitement of "event television".

Channel 4 long ago dropped any pretence that the show was a psychological experiment and has concentrated on making the programme the epitome of tabloid TV.

"It's all pantomime," Davina McCall whispers into the ear of each evicted housemate as they face the inevitable boos and cheers.

And as televised pantomime, Big Brother is the best thing on screens during the summer.

Amiable

Last year the series flopped because the producers chose a group of contestants who were so determined to be amiable and agreeable that it came as no surprise that the winner was a Bible-reading, Scottish virgin.

Big Brother
The warring parties had to be held apart during a mass brawl
The producers have made no such mistake this time, billing the series as 'Big Brother gets evil' and selecting 12 individuals seemingly on their ability to irritate and wind each other up.

The result has been explosive - literally. One late night row was so aggressive that security guards had to rush in to the house and separate the contestants, while distressed viewers called the police because they were worried about the scenes unfolding on their screens.

The fact there was anyone watching the programme in the small hours shows just how addictive this series has been.

The fighting factions, bickering, sexual tension and jealousy have made this year's series the most unmissable yet, driven by the TV producers' ability to divide the housemates and cultivate suspicion.

Nudity

Nadia
Nadia is favourite to win the series
This series has also been marked by a degree of nudity not seen before - inhibitions were quickly shed in the house and the programme has been awash with breasts and bums.

Whether this has been a deliberate calculation by the producers or the general erosion of inhibitions over a number of series is not clear - but it has certainly ensured high profile coverage in the mass market papers.

And while the Big Brother sex barrier has also been broken this series, allegedly - it has been of secondary interest to the arguments and divisions that have arisen in the house.

The producers have significantly improved the tasks given to the housemates too - making the group chain each other up in pairs for several days was a master stroke, ratcheting up the pressure.

Big Brother ultimately stands or falls on the quality of its contestants - and in Victor Ebuwa, Nadia Almada, Michelle Bass and Marco Sabba, Channel 4 has unearthed some of the best pantomime characters in many years.


Did you watch this series? Did the fighting and nudity mark new lows in the programme's history or did it prove engrossing? Below is a selection of readers' comments.

I think Big Brother as a whole started off as a fairly decent sociologically intriguing concept but has gone down to pure entertainment, and not the good kind, the "let's laugh at them as we humiliate them" kind. We think we've evolved since watching Gladiators fighting in pits until the death but its pretty much the same, just with less death and rather wanna-be-celebs who will annoy us until the next round of Big Brother contestants come along and it starts all over again. I'd like to say lets hope it dies out quickly but I can't see it happening any time soon as the execs will love the ratings.
Ashley Boyd, Kidderminster, UK

having only having watched one of the very early episodes I can't understand what anyone with an ounce of a brain sees in such drivel as Big Brother, it is really mind numbing - let's have some proper programmes without conflict, conflict, conflict
Malcolm Smith, Cullompton, Devon, England

Ok I'll admit that I found the initial series interesting, the novelty very quickly wore off. Now I feel the show is in its death phase. When you have to resort to such extreme tactics as enticing conflict by getting "Evil" on the contestants you are truly reaching the limits of new ideas you can use. What will they do for next season to top that? Allow bouts to the death in an arena?! It really annoys me having this trash on TV almost 24/7 for around a month, you can't escape it as it even fills the papers! The sooner that show is cancelled the better.
Stephen, UK

This horse is long past shooting. For God's sake put us all out of our misery.
Henry Hyde, Brighton, UK

I thought this series of Big Brother was superb. To see Nadia win is a glorious example of what the human race can do for each other, when we are doing so much against each other in war and terrorism. It was nice to see Davina have a little tear too...
Joe H Lycett, Birmingham UK

I, for one, enjoy getting out of the fantasy, depressing world of the soaps, and love watching real people. Who cares how gay, extroverted, attention-seeking they are - it's TV and over a tenth of the population (which are pretty good figures for one channel) obviously enjoy watching it! Roll on next summer!
Geoff M, Trowbridge, UK

No BB is not ground breaking at all - but it's been a great series! Watching a good classic film, or listening to superb older music isn't usually "ground breaking" but that doesn't make it any less worthwhile. I personally thought this series unmasked some bigotry and disproved others.
David, Glasgow, Scotland

To all the snipers of BB5, you carry on watching all your Passport to paradise/ antiques/ home-makeovers and boot fair shows. Big Brother is about people, their ups and downs, the laughter and the tears. To be tired of Big Brother is to be tired of life.
Gaz, London

It strikes me that Big Brother is in some way a watered down version of real life. Any entertainment or intellectual value it has are replicated, and in a much more interesting form in a normal person's life. "Fighting factions, bickering, sexual tension and jealousy", as well as the insights into politics, philosophy and psychology mentioned by another, can all be found in its pure form anywhere you look, and guess what- in a fully interactive, real life, reality experience!
James, London, UK

Please can we stop Big Brother now? We've been through enough and it's getting pathetic. It's not entertaining, it's not in good taste and it's ruining TV. I wouldn't mind so much if it was confined to it's slot on Channel 4, but it isn't. It's in the papers all the time, on the news, everywhere and you can't avoid it.
Andrew Slater, England, UK

I never saw the first 2 Big Brothers but when the 3rd series came on i was hooked. Last years was so boring that i vowed not to watch it again. But this year it has been excellent. Well done Nadia! But i must admit it is past its sell by date now. Its clear that the producers will do anything to get the ratings up and I cant think what they will do next year. I hope this is the final one. Go out on a high BB. The contestants were just hungry for fame, which is rather pathetic.
Lauren, Oxford

BB is cheap and sleazy. Is this the precedent for TV in the future? Instead of producing well-made documentaries, historical programmes and dramas, television companies are losing some major talent to other countries, while the UK is busy hyping up losers to become major "talent". I just refuse to watch channel 4 while BB is on. Cheap, trashy, reality TV shows like this should be pay per view.
Ray , London, UK

Please let it be five and out.
Simon, Berkhamsted, UK

Big Brother epitomises for me everything that is wrong in society. When a TV show depicting a group of nonentities going about their daily business draws millions, you know something is seriously wrong. I can't believe people are raving about this pathetic excuse for "entertainment". You want reality? Stick your head outside the door...there's a whole world out there!
Luke Dawson, Horsham, UK

Best BB yet. To everybody that doesn't like it - Stop moaning and let the rest of us enjoy this fab show. Well done to the BB team, can't wait for next year...Congrats to Nadia - you're a star!
S Bentley, Nuneaton, UK.

Enough of the sober holier-than-thou high-mindedness: Big Brother is undeniably compelling. But what should we make of Davina's description of BB as 'pantomime' on the one hand whilst Nadia's triumph is a victory for 'acceptance'? Nadia seemed genuinely moved to tears by winning. Many viewers obviously took it equally seriously. Has Big Brother finally fooled us into the ultimate act of double-think: believing in the importance of the pantomime? If it's only pantomime, what kind of 'acceptance' has Nadia really achieved? Should we not be a little careful when mixing real high emotion with the fickle opinions of an excitable public?
Andy Davies, Leicester, UK

If I want to see a social freak show as is BB, then I need only go out on a Friday or Saturday night to any city centre. As TV, however, it is a complete waste of space.
John, Liverpool

It pains me that Channel 4 will continue to pander to the masses with rubbish like Big Brother, but pass up the opportunity to present quality television programs (such as their current aversion to showing series 4 of The West Wing on terrestrial TV) to a smaller, but just as dedicated audience.
Paul Smith, Bristol, UK

Question: Is Big Brother still innovative, ground-breaking TV? Answer: No. Plus it's questionable whether it ever was 'innovative, ground breaking TV' the first time round. But now it's definitely complete banality.
Tom, London, UK

This is not creativity. This is not innovative. The innovative and creativity should be some thing that brings value to human live. Some thing that is obscene, abusive, arrogance and craziness is not innovative. I am definitely sure that is not the meaning for innovative in the oxford dictionary. An entertainment program should be enjoyable by everybody not by just a small percentage of the community.
Janam, UK

Dull, dull, dull. It's cringeworthy, embarrassing, and a pitiful waste of time. I'm glad that drivel like this isn't being paid for by my TV Licence... It would be easier, cheaper - and probably more entertaining - to just put up spy camera's in the halls of residence at some University; at least then it would have a slight bearing on reality!
Mark Parsons, Isle of Man

Big Brother was and will always be just cheap TV. No talent, no hopers filling the screen week after week
Gary Howard, Aylesbury, Bucks

Reality?? What is real about it ? What is entertaining about potentially turning a few hopeless social misfits into pseudo celebrities? The world is full of so much more important things. Lowest common denominator TV just wastes money and time for the mindless contestants and audience. Please make it stop ...
Will, UK

Reality TV has had its day and Big Brother is the prime example.
Martin, Liverpool
Reality TV has had its day and Big Brother is the prime example. Why doesn't Channel Four spend the money they are raking in from the show on scheduling some decent programs. They have definitely lost their way to the point that I will now choose Channel Five over Channel Four anytime. Let's say bye bye Big Brother and hello decent TV.
Martin, Liverpool

When A TV show like Big Brother makes it to the front page of the BBC news, it's time to change channels.
Robin Astor, London, UK

People who think of Big Brother as trashy television, and believe it harms future generations should really remember one thing.....you don't have to watch it. As long as there are thousands of people lined up to appear as contestants, tabloids hungry to print stories, and viewers willing to watch, it will live on.
Amy, Surrey, England

Big Brother is people doing nothing, watched by people with nothing to do. It's utter, utter rubbish and the arrogance of the contestants is incredible.
Stuart Davies, Birmingham, UK

Big Brother, like most television in this country, is unwatchable garbage. Thank god for the internet.
Mark, London, UK

There's no social experiment (unlike the BBC's series on the island of Taransay), there's no entertainment value (other than that to be had by watching any city centre pub at closing time..) and it pains me that people actually watch it. The sooner it ends up on some minority cable/sat channel ('live TV'/topless weather forecasts etc is about its level I seem to recall) the better.
Andy Jones, UK

Please god make it stop. I think we've all suffered enough.
Ben Temperton, Wiltshire, UK

BB this year has been the best yet. BB has been even more evil than before and the house mates have responded in such interesting ways. they have all been very big characters this year making it extremely addictive.
Diane , reading

I do feel very strongly that reality TV is killing scripted television. It's probably cheap to make compared with a drama, which is probably why it's so popular with programme makers. For some reason, people watch these things. I guess it must be the voyeur part of the human nature that it appeals to, hence the reason why so many watch, presumably hoping to see the next flash of tantalising flesh or on-screen brawl. In my view, it's tabloid television and I really do wonder sometimes why I bother having a TV in the house at all.
Jo, Scotland

When BB first came out it was an interesting new format, nothing more... now it's the biggest waste of time out there and another example of dumbing down TV and unoriginal scheduling and formatting. If this rubbish were on the BBC I'd be asking for my licence fee back! If people want reality, try getting your bums off the sofa for more than the time it takes to get a packet of crisps and try living a little!!
Jon Finch, London

Yawn... can we have some real TV back on, rather than the same old drivel every night... Having watched all 5 series, I can definitely say that the latest is far more watchable than the rest, but only as a consequence of the very diverse backgrounds from which the housemates hail. However, that very diversity has a very positive effect on our society and our cultural perceptions as a whole. Nadia is a case in point. Without previous B.B. series, would the British Public have been sufficiently open-minded to take her to their heart?
Anon., Broadstairs UK

Absolutely fantastic viewing - well done Big Brother - not in the slightest bit offensive - contestants well selected - tasks superb - I will be sorry when it ends tonight.
Erica Glynne, Barnet, Herts

I think Big Brother has gone on way too long!! I lost interest after the first series, when it was novel, but now it is just trashy TV and should be axed. It is shame that the people in charge of TV think viewers are interested in this rubbish. If this is the way TV is going, then I will switch off.
Neil, Guildford, UK

I think that the new show is refreshing in that it's the first of all 5 big brothers were there are housemates in their genuinely being themselves and behaving as they would in a real situation. Nudity and fighting happen in day to day life and it isn't the fight that is the factor it's the ability and strength of individuals to recover from that scenario and progress that is addictive viewing.
Leona, Edinburgh, Scotland

As always, entertaining to watch intermittently. Long live Big Brother for its summer time antics.
Alastair, UK

The fighting was definitely the low point of this series and the nudity has not been engrossing in the slightest. However this has been the best Big Brother since series 2. I still don't understand why the public choose to vote out the 'characters' and keep in the quieter ones...
Alan, Glasgow, Scotland

The latest series of Big Brother manipulates the housemates and the viewers. But who cares? It is still engrossing to watch. With dire programmes like Celebrities Under Pressure, Simply The Best and Passport To Paradise clogging up the schedules, is it any wonder that this new series of "Big Brother Gets Evil" is a huge hit? The contestants are game, the producers have pulled out all the stops and the viewers have responded. Has the fighting and nudity been a new low in television history? Go into any City on a Saturday night and you will see a lot worse! Well done Channel 4 for reviving a lame duck! "This is Big Brother. Channel 4 ... you have passed this year's task which was to liven up British television."
Glenn Meads, Manchester, UK

I watched the first two and two was enough. So what if someone's having sex - if I wanted that I would watch late night Channel 5 or hire a dodgy DVD. C4 viewing has been restrictive as every other program was yet another BB update. Why can't C4 transfer it to E4 - Those that want to watch it then have to subscribe instead of everyone else having to put up with it. Or better still make one of the tasks a real game of Russian roulette on the opening night so we wouldn't have to put up with this worn out formulae.
Richard, London UK

Too little, too late. To think they have been contracted for 8 series is now a bit of a nightmare. The channels have now reached saturation point with all manner of "reality" shows. The irony? Big Brother is the most removed from reality you are likely to get. By far the best series since BB1. It's been entertaining to watch almost all the way through. However what does concern me is what the Endemol team are going to try and do to top it next year.
Dave, Coventry, UK

After 5 series, no, it isn't ground-breaking. No, I don't watch it, and I'm fed up with endless me-too "reality" TV shows filling the schedules. All BB is, is 10 people in a house - big deal, who cares? They're all petty attention seekers. It would be nice if there were some decent, high quality alternatives scheduled against it.
Alan, Northampton UK

There's no such thing as low-brow entertainment. That's a concept devised by the self-appointed intelligentsia in order to elevate themselves above the crowd. Active minds will always find something of interest in these kind of programs, so don't kid yourself that reality television viewers are of low intelligence. It has the virtue of being socially binding, for instance, at my place of work nothing gets done until we've discussed the merits and demerits, in a light-hearted way, of the housemates behaviour during the previous day. I began watching BB last year to see what all the fuss was about, and have since become hooked, but having said that, it doesn't detract from my interest in politics, philosophy, or my dabbling in a bit of lay-psychology - on the contrary, all of these interests can be applied in someway to the show. BB is about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and I for one would rate it as more entertaining than 90% of the so-called extraordinary people Michael Parkinson has been interviewing over the years.
Don Swift, Birmingham

This series has been entertaining primarily because of the factions and alliances that quickly developed and the intelligent tactical voting by the Jungle Cats. In previous series the contestants were cautious in case they were perceived as playing up to the cameras - in Big Brother 5 they have finally realised that that is the whole point of the game.
Neil Hopkins, Sheffield, UK

This series has been good. Last series was boring, because everyone was so nice the whole time. Its true, it IS a pantomime, and people watch it as such. Everyone I seem to speak to has had their favourites, and people they have disliked - it's not reality, and people know that, but that's WHY people watch it.
Dawn, Chichester, UK

I loved the first couple of series, then the novelty wore off and I refused to watch the last one. Rightly so, by all accounts. After a glimpse of the characters on show early in this series I once again decided to give it a miss. These people were all truly obnoxious. I wouldn't have them in my home, even via the box. And then I catch a glimpse of a fight whilst channel hopping and get hooked again. Now I feel grubby. It's like I've just witnessed a car crash and am fascinated by the pools of blood. The only way this series can go now is towards snuff TV. The bottom of the barrel approaches. Don't let me watch it, please.
Smike, London

After the mind-numbing BB4, I was determined not to get sucked into this years, however after 2 weeks of total avoidance I caved in and think this has been the best season yet, I have loved most of the tasks (especially the Wedding task and Boot Camp Task - although Big Brother does seem to have a fetish for fish guts). What I would like to know is why do the Great British Public insist on evicting the best characters (Victor, Stuart, Marco) and keep the ones who really bring nothing to the house in (Shell). Dan to win!!!
MLC, oxford, UK

Big Brother has surpassed itself this year. The reason simply being that this year BB had its/his own personality. The best yet.
Roisin Scott, Belfast Ireland

This year's Big Brother has been extremely entertaining. Aside from the massive characters whose arguments and laughter have been an integral part, this year Big Brother has developed its own character. In previous years, the BB "voice" has been very neutral and uninvolved. This year, "Evil" BB has been almost impish at times, adding a new and welcome dimension to the programme.
Carolyn, Leeds, West Yorkshire

I watched the first series of BB and even then soon got tired of it... and I'm in their key demographic! It seems to me to be very sub-scripted in that the producers select contestants and control situations in order to get the response they want. I despair when I'm talking to friends and colleagues who utter the phrase "did you see Big Brother last night"?
Simon, Gloucester UK

What really stands out about series five is the friendships that have developed despite the producers' obvious attempts to create conflict. It is clear that the producers have attempted to manipulate the atmosphere of the house by inserting characters who would not naturally work well together, yet despite this bonds have formed between many members and they have successfully put aside their differences to create some of the most charming scenes on television this year. One great example was the disastrous wedding when Victor and Shell where baying for each other's blood. The event was exactly what the producers wanted, violent and emotional, however the quiet forgiveness felt the next day was what really entertained. So despite the best, or worst, wishes of the producers, it would seem that honest humanity is the true winner of Big Brother series 5.
Matthew, Winchester, UK

Well it just shows it is the people who make the programme and not the programme who make the people!! And if this year's show is anything to go by - who cares if it is innovative - it has been the most entertaining series ever! And as for breaking down barriers and being important TV then just look at the winner - NADIA!!!!!!!!!! She is an inspiration!
Andrew Denman, Leeds

Big brother is only for those people who lack the intelligence to cut up their own food. If you have nothing better to do that watch 10 dull wannabes in a house doing dull things then you really need to get some friends.
Jem Clarke, Wales

Undoubtedly the best series by FAR! Most enjoyable viewing.
Tracy Owen, Bristol, United Kingdom

This year has been the best BB ever and I have been totally engrossed in every episode. It has been a vast improvement on last years series, and the talking point of most people's conversations for the last 10 weeks.
Emma Dutton, Northwich, Cheshire, England

This series of Big Brother has proved as vapid and superficial as those that preceded it. Series 1 was the only (vaguely) interesting series and only because of "Nasty Nick" and his creative efforts to win the game. This year's crop of contestants have been the shallow, phoney attention-seekers we have come to expect from Big Brother, a bodybuilder who enters the house in a thong, the mix of a man who openly admits to "not liking" gay people and a gay man. This is tabloid newspaper on TV, nothing more, and is a dull and uninspiring waste of the TV schedule.
Martin, London, UK

I have been hooked to it and I think that the nudity and violence probably helped. Everyone always watches the worst in society like watching a bad car crash, it does not mean that we approve though! However it is still not as nail-biting as when Nasty Nick was thrown out of the first series for possessing a pencil!!! Which was fantastic at the time - I don't know how they will beat it next year?
Colin Simmons, UK

Get a life. Real life is out there on a Friday night, not on TV. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks that this is entertainment, what sad lives they must live!
Jon, Winchester, UK

Being an inveterate channel hopper, I keep coming across Big Brother accidentally, and I have to say, it has to be some of the most mind-numbingly dull TV ever - nudity or not. The idea that four million people could actually plan to sit and watch this bunch of vacuous, asinine plebs, who's only talent is to be stupid enough to be locked up together for months, makes me wonder... well, just wonder, what Orwell would make of it.
Dan, UK

As Davina McCall describes it as pure pantomime, then what better final four could we have in the cast as: Jason (The Evil King); Shell (The Princess); Dan (Widow Twankey): and of course, the wonderful Nadia (The Grande Dame). All brilliant stuff, but not reality TV: this series is in fantasy land, but all the better for it . . . as Jason would say "Well done youse guys!".
David M, Preston, England

I was addicted to the previous four BBs but this year I vowed not to watch it. I finally clicked that there is no reason to watch these self-obsessed, fame-ravenous people who are only 'famous' for being selected by a group of TV execs to show themselves up nationally. And my life has been richer for not watching and being sucked into the inanity of it all.
Keeley, London, UK

What is "reality" TV? As far as can see from programmes like this, they have nothing to do with reality - it's just a group of people - completely devoid of talent - who want their 15 minutes (or should that be seconds?) of fame and will go to any lengths to achieve it. Their only ambition it appears is to be on the front of the tabloid press and join the ever increasing band of Z-list "celebrities". Doesn't say much for future generations does it?
Suzanne Phillips, Rhondda, Wales




SEE ALSO:
Countdown to Big Brother TV final
06 Aug 04  |  Entertainment
Police called in to Big Brother
17 Jun 04  |  Entertainment
Bookmakers pay out on Brother sex
21 Jul 04  |  Entertainment
Record ratings for Stu's eviction
05 Aug 04  |  Entertainment


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