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Saturday, 12 August, 2000, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Reality TV overload
Jordan from Big Brother in the US
Evicted Big Brother contestant Jordan turns chat show star with David Letterman
By BBC News Online's entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

The US version of Big Brother in which TV cameras spy on 10 house guests confined to a specially created home in Studio City in California has become one of the biggest hits in America's summer of TV voyeurism.

The CBS network began broadcasting Big Brother on 5 July, aiming to deliver 89 episodes and around the clock webcasting, until the climax on 30 September, when a winner will receive a prize of $500,000.

So far two house guests have been voted out of the Studio City compound. The first to go, William Collins, caused CBS considerable embarrassment.

Even though the network claims it did extremely thorough background checks Collins was found to have affiliations to an African-American group holding anti-Semitic views - and he once featured in a photograph brandishing a gun.

Big Brother has caused controversy in the US
The other resident who has been banished is Jordan, a 27-year-old woman who once worked as a stripper at a "gentleman's club" in Minnesota. Jordan apparently irritated other house guests with her frank comments on models, sex and fellow residents.

In America it's not the ousters that have created controversy but the very public meltdown of the marriage of Karen, a mother of four from Indiana.

Karen revealed that she has been locked in a loveless union with her husband who she belittled on the air. CBS then interviewed her husband to seek out his views on his wife's public declarations.

The network has been accused of creating entertainment out of personal misery, and for not considering the impact Karen's televised revelations will have on her children.

Trend not fad

Although Big Brother has been winning big audiences it is not as popular as the CBS ratings smash Survivor, the story of 16 island castaways fending for themselves and vying for a $1m jackpot.

But taken together, these two shows have transformed CBS by bringing it those highly prized younger viewers most coveted by advertisers because of their high spending patterns.

When Survivor came along the race really began to gather pace

The success of Big Brother and Survivor on CBS, and the "real" people oriented Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? on ABC, has brought dramatic change to the American TV landscape.

All of these shows, which happen to be British, or European imports, have led American TV executives to declare that reality TV is no passing fad, but a major programming trend.

NBC, the only major network without a reality show on the air has been involved in a desperate game of catch-up and it may have found an answer with Chains of Love.

This programme, produced by the Dutch company that also brought Big Brother to American TV, features cameras trained on a young woman chained to four men she has selected from a pool of about 100.

Over a period of weeks she eliminates and releases them until she is left shackled to one whom she chooses as the most desirable date.


ABC has The Runner in the pipeline, produced by Dogma stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. It has cameras following contestants as they try to travel from one side of the US to another without being intercepted by pursuers who are trying to outwit them.

The predominance of reality shows has caused some deep soul searching among broadcasters who wonder where the quest for high ratings that is driving TV voyeurism will end.

Dogma stars Affleck and Damon
Affleck and Damon have ventured into the world of reality
Critics fear it represents a return to more primitive times when Americans rallied to the town square to watch public hangings.

There is little doubt that the popularity of reality TV - and its widespread acceptance - indicates that notions of what is private are changing quite rapidly. Most Americans have no qualms enjoying the very private antics of the Big Brother residents.

So it shouldn't come as a total surprise to find that American TV networks are responding by marketing their shows by invading formerly private zones.

Later this month in 1,000 men's lavatories in New York and Los Angeles, an electronic billboard placed above urinals will transmit an audio advertisement for the new series of the ABC TV sitcom Norm.

If the current trend of corrosive TV voyeurism continues it would only make sense to find an ABC News reporter with a hidden camera lurking in lavatories in New York monitoring public reaction for a news story on intrusive advertising.

Some may consider this an outrageous concept but in this age of cross-promotional synergistic reality programming anything is possible.

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06 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother hits the US
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