Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Tuesday, 29 July 2008 11:04 UK

Has BB9 turned into heaven or hell?

By Liam Allen
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The start of Big Brother 9 had all the ingredients of a classic series - secret tasks, nudity and love stories to name but a few. But, as it passes the halfway mark, has the show lived up to its early promise?

Kathreya Kasisopa
Kathreya Kasisopa is still the bookies favourite to win the show

The new series began with a bang on 5 June. Or should that be band? A wedding band.

Mario Marconi, 42 - who entered the house along with real girlfriend Lisa Appleton - had to try to convince fellow housemates that his "wedding" to 19-year-old Stephanie McMichael in the house was real.

More genuine was the love story between pretty boy Dale Howard and Jennifer Clark.

Within a week, Alexandra De-Gale - dubbed the show's nastiest ever character by some papers - had been thrown out for intimidating other housemates.

BB producers then successfully engineered a love triangle by introducing her replacement Stuart Pilkington - arguably the second-best looking boy in the house - to vie for Jennifer's affections.

New romance

A week later, Dennis McHugh was also thrown out for spitting in the face of fellow contestant Mohamed Mohamed.

Last year overall - 3.8m

BB9 so far - 3.3m

This time last year - 3.6m
BB9 figure includes main night-time show on Channel 4 and Channel 4+1

And, at the end of the following week, the love story of Jennifer and Dale came to end when the 21-year-old young mother was evicted.

This paved the way for a new romance to emerge - that of Luke Marsden and Rebecca Shiner who, although not as easy on the eye as their predecessors, were endearing in their own way.

All of which made for an exciting, eventful first month for Big Brother fans.

The last few weeks of the show, in stark contrast, have produced little worthy of mention.

For while Big Brother started with a bang, it has degenerated into a series of whimpers.

Jazz hands

While Stuart has become an integral part of the show since he joined house at the end of the second week, the show's other three newcomers - introduced three-and-a-half weeks ago - have not.

As appealing as you are to the male viewers, people don't watch the show with the mute button turned on
Dale to Maysoon

Belinda Harris-Reid, 44, lasted just two weeks and was evicted at the first available opportunity thanks to her grating and constant scat singing - complete with jazz hands. Some 3.5 million watched her inevitable eviction - at one stage she was 100/1 on to leave the show.

Those figures were down from usual eviction night audiences of around the four million mark.

Model Maysoon Shaladi, meanwhile, has featured in the nightly highlights show perhaps less than any housemate since Big Brother first aired in the UK in July 2000.

Fellow housemate Dale, while hardly a great philosopher, showed some wisdom at the weekend when he told Maysoon frankly: "As appealing as you are to the male viewers, people don't watch the show with the mute button turned on - there's only so much they can get from you by looking at you."

Hammy performance

Australian Sara Folino, introduced at the same time, should never have been put into the house - she's far too similar to last year's housemate Pauline.

Pamela Anderson in Australian Big Brother house
An appearance from Pamela Anderson could not save Australian Big Brother

Unfortunately, "Pauline" from Big Brother 8 was in fact fake housemate and actress Thaila Zucci - who appeared in the house for a few days with a hammy performance as a cliched version of an Australian.

Staying with the Australian theme, it was announced a fortnight ago that the country's version of Big Brother had been axed leading bookmaker Ladbrokes to slash its odds for the cancellation of the UK version from 16/1 to 8/1.

The news also led critics of the show to suggest the show had run its course in Britain as well and had nothing new to offer.

The timing of the announcement, then, could not have been more unfortunate given that it coincided with the physical separation of the house into two halves - heaven and hell.

Those in heaven have lived in luxury bedrooms and have been treated to an abundance of tasty food, alcohol, music and other treats

Those in hell have slept in the "B-block" dormitory bedroom, have been given no treats and have been forced to endure arduous Big Brother tasks.

Jade Goody
Jade Goody appeared when the house was separated into rich and poor sides

This will have seemed familiar to many Big Brother fans because in Big Brother 3 - in 2002 - housemates including Jade Goody, Kate Lawler and Alex Sibley were among housemates split by bars into two camps - rich and poor.

Needless to say, the rich side of the house enjoyed luxury food and other treats while the poor side had to endure basic rations and tasks that tested both endurance and sanity.

Big Brother tabloid centre spreads - which cynics might say are used to fill space during the traditional summer "silly season" - have remained.

But more prominent mentions of action in the house in the main pages of both tabloids and broadsheets in the last few weeks have been harder to find.

After one of the show's strongest openings of recent years, it's now in desperate need of a shot in the arm if it's to hit the headlines again.

If that's not forthcoming then, on the basis of the last few weeks, it will feed the fuel of those critics who say that - like its Australian counterpart - the format is about to go down under in the UK as well.

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