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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Reality TV: What's the attraction?

Millions of viewers have been hooked by the "fly on the wall" TV show, Big Brother and it seems that TV voyeurism is now becoming a sure winner in the programme ratings stakes.

TV schedules are filling with docusoaps and shows like Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which have captivated audiences all over the world.

But is the popularity of reality TV a passing fad or is it set to become the future trend of TV programming? What is the attraction in Big Brother, the show that we all love to hate? Are we becoming a society of voyeurs?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Big Brother? What's that then? I haven't watched T.V since I began to realise that quality programming was declining, which was several years ago.
Derek Jones, UK

Perhaps the popularity of "Reality TV" in the UK can be explained by the other entertainment alternative: A trip to the "Dome"

Brian S, USA

Having stayed in the UK I can say that the overall TV programming is of poor quality. Perhaps the popularity of "Reality TV" in the UK can be best explained by the other entertainment alternative: A trip to the "Dome".
Brian S, USA

These shows are for people who have nothing better to do. Wouldn't it be great if we could get people as interested in cultural things, and away from their television sets? How about taking a walk, or playing with your kids, or reading a good book, etc.? Personally I think it's a fad that will eventually go the way of other television programs - and I look forward to that day!
Theresa Cote, USA

Waste of time, if you ask me. Put 8 nobody-wannabe-somebody potential psychopaths in a house and watch them self-destruct. I'm sure that Big Brother is enjoyed by the same intellect which enjoys the fantasy escapism of soap operas. Also, aside from the boredom effect on audiences (50m people don't watch it), I do wonder about the ethics of what is being done to the contestants themselves.
Neil, UK

I fail to see how anyone with any form of life at all can possibly regard this trash as entertainment

Tanya Smithson, England
I watched one episode of Big Brother for less than 10 minutes before switching it off. It has got to be the biggest waste of airtime I have ever witnessed. I fail to see how anyone with any form of life at all can possibly regard this trash as entertainment.
Tanya Smithson, England

I'm loving every minute of Big Brother, simply because it's such a great insight into the human personality. Not only is it psychologically fascinating to see how these people react and interact but also to see any traits that you have yourself. I've certainly got some nasty surprises.
Finally, if you don't like it the BBC has done a good job of laying on drama and comedy to compete with it, lately, so just watch that! We all deserve to get what we want from the license fee and TV.
Michael Amherst, UK

I don't know what the appeal is. In my day there were proper programmes with real plots and characters. I saw this big brother and it was like when I was at home with my family. Except that we only lived in a two bedroom terrace and there were nine of us.
Wally Hibbs, UK

It is high quality programming and a great insight into other people's mindsets

Paul, UK
It may be cheap but it is high quality programming and a great insight into other people's mindsets (despite any denials which producer Peter Bazalgette may have about this). The only thing is, a second series would never have the same impact, with the contestants knowing exactly what it would be like. So keep watching it for the next few weeks, and see some of the best television for a generation.
Paul, UK

Cheap trash. What's happening to C4?
Julia, UK

I would rather be involved in my own life than watch someone else's on television.
Douglas Murray, UK

What is really galling is finding that many people have nothing better to talk about when it's not on

Alastair, UK
First off, it's not reality. Thank goodness. Not yet. It's also cheaper than a soap and closer to reality on a banal day to day level.
Before TV or films, people wrote novels that had pretty much the same effect as watching a TV soap. I've watched BB and find it oddly compelling and I'm not sure why. I would like to see more psychological analysis of what goes on actually. What is really galling is finding that many people have nothing better to talk about when it's not on. The endless inane chatter that betrays a pointless existence and profound disinterest in life and the world.
Alastair, UK

I sat in and watched it as I was advised by Lorraine and Louisa and I have to say it was the most pointless waste of time its ever been my misfortune to watch. Now these people (who lost by the way) are being treated as celebrities!?
You may as well say Quick! I need to hurry down to the studios to get the autograph of the loser on Catchphrase! How sad....
Paul Charters, England

I think Big Brother is very exciting and great to watch. The way they all get on most of the time is great considering that they are in a small space.
Stephanie Heaps, Liverpool, England

Do people in the UK have such miserable, boring lives that they have to spy on other people's lives for entertainment?
Miles Davies, UK

Big Brother is garbage. Cheap and vacuous TV, it is the dumbest of the dumb.

Henry Dempster, Scotland
Big Brother is garbage. Cheap and vacuous TV, it is the dumbest of the dumb. When the hype has died down and the novelty worn off, most people will wonder why they wasted so much time glued to the tedious antics of a bunch of cretins cooped up in a house.
Henry Dempster, Scotland

Prior to watching the American reality show "Survivor", I would have had only poor things to say about viewers of these shows. What can I say - they're addictive! "Survivor's" final episode in the states was one of the most watched shows in television history? We really wanted to know who won (and most were shocked).
These shows at best show the truer side of human behaviour, and at worse they're a freak show. But we cannot seem to stop watching - no more than we can stop "rubbernecking" when we see car wrecks on the side of the highway.
Tom, USA

The response of people to these types of programs show how disconnected we've become in our individualism, and our need to relate to people whom we feel we know, through the flick of a switch!
Angela, Canada

This world is a bunch of gossips, and people enjoy prying into other people's lives. That's what makes reality TV so popular.
Gemma, Scotland

Big Brother has somehow captured the nation's imagination. How? Nobody knows.

Gemma Edwards, Wales
Big Brother has somehow captured the nation's imagination. How? Nobody knows. What is it about watching 10 people all cooped up in a house together? Basically, we're all nosy. We can't help it-it's in our nature. We like to eavesdrop on people's conversations, find out the gossip at work/uni etc. We have this great desire to know what is going on in everyone else's lives and BB allows us to do this. We get to see what is going on in the lives of other people 24/7.But this is not an original idea though-surely the Truman Show started off this trend? But can we really blame the TV people for giving the viewers what they want?
Gemma Edwards, Wales

Despite everyone saying how pathetic Big Brother is everyone is talking about it. Who knows what keeps everyone gripped? The departure of 'Nasty Nick' has left an emptiness in the programme. We all tune in see slander, gossip etc, but in general not a lot actually happens. My friends and I tune in just in case something happens - it rarely does! But if something did happen we could always say we were there watching it live on the internet. Will it keep people talking long after the winner is back in civilian life - who knows? All I do know is that I wouldn't want many of the house members as my flatmates!
Adam C, UK

The real attraction is these programmes are dirt cheap to make

Peter, UK
The real attraction is these programmes are dirt cheap to make. Judging by most of the programming pumped out and repeated ad nauseam by all TV channels, quality is no longer a guiding principle.
Peter, UK

Fun for while. But surely it's a recipe for countless other programmes, i.e. gardening, decorating, fly on the wall documentaries etc.. It's cheap, easy to produce TV - and I'm not so sure that it meets the requirements of the ITC dictum to provide good quality TV.
Also, surely people are entitled to a good mix of programming, including triviality such as Big Brother and good programmes also - to suit different tastes and intelligence.
Andrew M Elliott, England

Who cares? Must be the worst TV every. Very boring. I pay a TV Licence to be entertained and informed, not this trash
Ken Owen, UK

No imagination, no discernible philosophy

Phillip J. Hubbell, USA
Well, here in the US, I think the same shallow, uneducated, ignorance that gave us Bill Clinton in the White House also makes up the large television audiences who watch these shows. No imagination, no discernible philosophy and an education bordering on non-existent produces people who are amused by other people's gossip and peccadilloes.
Phillip J. Hubbell, USA

Programmes like "Big Brother" are such a bore. If I want to watch people sitting around arguing, I don't have to turn my TV on for that, there's enough of it at home already!
Steve Smith, UK

We're not "saddos" sitting in every night. But when we are in, we love to watch "Big Brother" and so does everybody else we know. Don't knock it, watch it. You might be surprised and love it too!
Lorraine and Louisa, UK

Trivia presents itself as a welcome oasis

Buck Moy, UK
Trivia presents itself as a welcome oasis. As do friends, drinking, clubbing, sport etc. These things are not mutually exclusive - why can people not watch "Big Brother" without being branded socially retarded? And so what if this represents a "descent" into voyeurism? Surely there is much to learn and reflect upon - this can only be good.
Buck Moy, UK

"Big Brother" is just portraying a group of ordinary people in unusual circumstances. The reason the UK is hooked is because we can relate to what the housemates are doing in certain circumstances and form an opinion on that basis. How anyone can say this is boring is beyond me. Viewers of "Big Brother" don't need to get a life as they are watching the lifestyle of 10 individuals 6 nights a week.
Clare H, England

I have to agree with everybody who has expressed their boredom with the "Big Brother" epidemic. It is another slip in the long slide that is modern television. It is about time that we had the return of entertainment to our screens. I am sick of "real-life" docusoaps depicting broken-houses, broken-gardens, broken-animals and broken-people all supported by a barrage of tabloid garbage. It is time to stop this social decay and introduce the "TV generation" to the delights of their own real life.
Chris, UK

With so many people writing in to say that "Big Brother" is a programme for people with no lives, why write such lengthy debates? It is a television programme. Getting so wound up by the subject suggests that these are the people struggling to lead interesting lives.
Andy, UK

Like voyeurism, the attraction is not in what you see, but in what might happen.
Peter, Holland

It is difficult to believe that people have an obsession in watching this sort of drivel. Who wants to know about the life of a prostitute or a bin man or of an egocentric back-stabber. You lot want to get out there, down the pub or making friends with your neighbours and you will see real life there with a lot less of the effort and reality is far more fascinating than the choreographed rubbish on TV.
Mark Lisle, Germany

It's only a game show, it's only a gameshow....and Nick played it to the best of his abilities

Amanda, England
It's only a game show, it's only a gameshow....and Nick played it to the best of his abilities. His supposed 'cheating' by writing down the names of those people he wanted to be evicted and apparently convincing the other contestants to do the same only goes to prove how fickle they actually were. At the 'lets all get at Nick' session, I bet that they were all mad at themselves more for not getting him 'sussed out' before now, rather than being mad at him for what he had done.
Lets all remember folks, no matter which contestants said that they joined the show for experience, life 'stretching' the end of the day, the prize money is a considerable amount, how many of us earn that amount in 10 weeks..... come now, Nick was probably playing the best tactical game....until he got found out of course......!
Amanda, England

In one of the few programmes I saw, several of the men were 'fixing' the mattress of one of the other contestants, so it collapsed when he lay on it. What next, shelling pea contest? I have never seen such a boring show. The people were all dreadful. Maybe Big Brother could have been interesting if the people had aspired to create something useful. If you enjoyed this show you really need to get a life. Go OUT and do something worthwhile!
Andy, England

I don't understand how the people with no TVs or the people who are making huge assumptions about the intellectual capabilities or the quality of life of the 4 million 'hooked' viewers, can pass themselves off as possessing a brain. Also, how come they know so much about BB, if they haven't seen any coverage? Thank God we don't have to watch you bunch of pretentious losers 24 hours a day! That would be what I would call seriously 'dumbing down'.
Jack G, UK

I can't help but notice that almost all of the people getting on their high horses and deriding the people who are addicted to Big Brother are people who haven't actually watched the show! If you've watched it and hate it, or think it's the end of civil society or whatever, fair enough, you're entitled to your opinion and no-one's making you watch it. But judging something you haven't even seen - and judging the people who enjoy it - is small-minded and snobbish.
Tricia, UK

Who needs soap operas now? This is TV heaven!!

Rex, UK
Last night's Big Brother was compulsive viewing. The events leading up to Nick's departure should be a moral lesson to us all - what goes around comes around! I hope Nick's replacement is just as scheming otherwise the programme will become boring unless of course Mel and Thomas get it together or Marjorie the chicken dies or Darren, Nicola and Anna get fried in a chip-pan fire. Who needs soap operas now? This is TV heaven!!
Rex, UK

Everyone likes to gossip and sometimes the office just isn't interesting enough.
Sophia Fannon, England

All Big Brother has done is show the contestants to be nothing more than rough nobodies with no morals or charisma. The women would be at home on a street corner and the men would be in the cars ready with the money.
Ed Jones, UK

Surely even in entertainment there are more interesting subjects than the tribulations of "Nasty Nick" and "Gullible Gwendoline" or whoever they are.
Jan Grote, Switzerland

Big Brother, like soaps and "doc-soaps" all share one common theme - portraying the mundane as entertainment. So what is the attraction? Simply put, modern day life is busy as well as ostracising. Humans, having evolved from tight communities of around 200 members hundreds of thousands of years ago need the small talk and gossip as part of a healthy functioning mind. These shows give us a vicarious way of experiencing something that is vital to our day to day social functioning.
Kevin Heritage, England

It is a passing attraction for people who have nothing better to do than watch other people's lives.
Alice, USA

Big Brother's main attraction isn't just voyeuristic. I think one of the largest appeals is that is a first in terms of a psychological experiment that is being shared, live, with the whole of the country.
The Minx, UK

The whole thing is a clever scam to make cheap tabloid-style television and bring the punters in

Gavin Wilson, UK
The whole thing is a clever scam to make cheap tabloid-style television and bring the punters in. The very fact that the "participants" in this farce were interviewed and selected for their roles - they may as well have been actors. This exemplifies the current lazy attitude with regards to programme making, and can only be seen as another nail in the coffin for quality programming.
Gavin Wilson, UK

Hang on a minute! A Reality show. How can anything be "real" when all eyes are on you, there are cameras everywhere and there is no privacy? Please do be deluded that this is real in anyway. Rather reminds of the Romans at the Coliseum watching and watching gladiators. I'd thought civilisation had moved on since then.
Simon Atkinson, UK

I am hooked, and I bet you that the chat in every work place this morning was focused on Nick's eviction

Mark Hull, UK
People watching. Everyone likes to people watch, just taking notice of what is going on around you or sitting on a park bench and just watching the world go by.
Not one person can say that they do not gossip about the people in their lives, or otherwise. Big Brother just plays on our natural instinct to be inquisitive and curious about others. But not only do you get to watch you are invited to take part and have some degree of control, it is this slight extension of voyeurism that I believe makes Big Brother so different.
I am hooked, and I bet you that the chat in every work place this morning was focused on Nick's eviction.
Mark Hull, UK

Any form of viewing is a type of vicarious living, and so the distinction between a docu-soap and a drama is not as great as some TV "snobs" might want us to believe. To these people the whole TV medium is only for the intellectually challenged anyhow. In reality of course any recorded programs you see (as distinct from a live web cam) will have been edited to just show the "highlights", and the subjects chosen likely to be those whose lives will offer the most dramatic events. There has yet to be a docu-soap on supermarket shelf stackers, but oddly there has been one on vets. In other words it's not that far removed from a scripted drama as you might initially suspect.
Ian Reid, England

Big Bother epitomises the depths to which popular culture has sunk in the UK today. What is worse than such drivel being broadcast on television is the depressing fact that millions of Britons are lapping it up. The much touted 'dumbing down' of British culture, which panders to whims of popular taste, is manifested in Big Brother.
Tragically, it is the 'educated' middle class who have become besotted by this meaningless nonsense - people with aspirations apparently no greater than alcohol and regular sex. Concern for such contrived fiction reflects nothing but the mediocrity and insignificance of the lives of the majority.
James Whitwell, UK

It's simple, cheap, rather sad, and seems to have 4m hooked. I'm glad I got rid of my TV 4 years ago, I don't miss this mindless drivel one bit.
Phill, UK

It's basically mindless TV. I agree with John B. All this voyeurism and docu-soaps are for sad people who have no lives of their own.
Mark S, UK

Nick and the winning house member will gain the most from Big Brother

Elaine, Scotland
Big Brother has huge appeal because audiences have never seen anything like it before. It's the fact that although everyone in the house are strangers and have different personalities, each must vote one person out every week. Also, the viewers see everything that goes on, there's nowhere for the contestants to go and it gets more addictive the more you watch. Nick's exit is good and bad for the show. Nick pulled in the viewers and will now make a new career out of his nasty image. Nick and the winning house member will gain the most from Big Brother.
Elaine, Scotland

It's a real-life soap opera, the "best" TV in ages. Brilliant escapism, this has to be the future of programming.
James Fox, Sheffield, UK

I haven't seen the UK version of Big Brother, but the American version is boring and poorly produced. Based on Big Brother's lower than expected ratings here in the US (except when the show is aired following Survivor), I'm obviously not the only one who feels this way. Yes, I believe reality TV is the future trend of TV programming, but programmers must realise that the public still demands quality. Just because a show has a reality aspect to it does not make it a sure winner.
James, USA

Nick is a hero to all the hardworking liars and cads. The way he deported himself throughout the last few weeks was exemplary in every way. I cannot wait until his next project gets underway. Well done Nick you bon viveur.
Alan Cheese, Bhutan

It's all part of the government plan to get us used to having 24 hour surveillance of our lives!

Jack, UK
It's all part of the government plan to get us used to having 24 hour surveillance of our lives! Only joking, I hope!
Jack, UK

The attraction of Big Brother is something that cannot really be explained. It is a real-life example of what scriptwriters are always striving for - a good soap opera about ordinary people. Far from being bimbo's and bimbettes, these people are a good cross section of the public (some of which, I concede, are bimbo's and bimbettes) trying to get on with each other. Watch it and see. The thrill is that the confrontations are real and the emotions are real even though the actions are a little false (they are aware they are being watched) but it makes for strangely compulsive viewing. Just don't expect to be educated.
Colin, UK

In my opinion, the reason why programmes such as Big Brother are so popular is to do with the fact that people are naturally voyeuristic. To be able to watch from the comfort of our own homes the highs and lows of a group of people is just too much a temptation. As for us becoming a nation of voyeurs, I think we already are. How else can you explain the popularity of publications which do nothing but publish stories of the secret lives of the rich and famous and the Royal family?
Rudi Honjo, England

I don't know, what IS the attraction of watching several extremely dull people in an unlikely situation. We have the cretinously stupid Survivor and Big Brother. I watched 5 minutes of the first episode of Survivor, then switched channels. These programmes are rubbish.
John, Canada

George Orwell must be turning in his grave

Matthew Salter, UK
Is voyeurism TV the next big thing? Possibly. It seems to be the next logical step (following on from the proliferation of docu-soaps) in the "dumbing down" of the media. As well as bringing in the viewers it has another appeal for the television companies - it's cheap. All you have to do is get a house in London, fit a few TV cameras and fill the place with a bunch of frivolous, self-obsessed wingers; sling in a dollop of good old-fashioned avarice and hey-presto - a best-selling show. The whole thing can be done for less than it takes to make a single episode of a quality period drama and you get the undivided attention of the tabloids to boot. Perfect. George Orwell must be turning in his grave.
Matthew Salter, UK

No one can deny it - Big Brother, Castaway 2000, Paddington Green, all of these so-called docu-soaps and fly on the wall programmes are unmissable. They prove to you that there are people in the world far more interesting and with much stranger ideas than you ever imagined. I thought we were reaching a period of saturation in this type of programming, and then Big Brother came along and I am hooked - just like 4 million others!!
Kevin Higgs, UK

I fail to see any attraction whatsoever in programmes like Big Brother (I haven't watched a single episode). I can only assume that the people who watch it either have nothing better to do, or watch to try and hide the fact that their lives are devoid of meaning.
John B, UK

Soaps have long been popular with viewers. "Reality" TV gives us soaps with real people instead of actors. As a naturally curious and voyeuristic species it is no surprise we lap it up. I'd say that "reality" TV is here to stay but it will remain part of our schedule and not totally dominate it. There will still be ample room for films, drama, comedy and sport etc. The only potential casualty might be standard soaps like EastEnders etc. Why watch them when you can see the "real" thing?
John Franklin, UK

Whether or not we admit it - every person is a voyeur to some extent

P. Godfrey, UK
Whether or not we admit it - every person is a voyeur to some extent. We love to watch people who can't see us - anyone who says different is lying. Big Brother has let us do this. It's compulsive viewing.
P. Godfrey, UK

Reality TV is here to stay. It started off as a medium for people to experience occupations which were alien to them. However, watching the anger and confrontation in these programmes (feelings and actions repressed in everyday society) the public became excited and hooked. How good would it feel to sometimes tell an individual exactly how we felt about them? Generally we don't, but there is something fulfilling about someone else doing it for us. Big Brother takes this a step further and lets us into the lives of complete strangers.
Chris Marsh, England

I hadn't heard of "Big Brother" at all until a "fan" sent me an e-mail at work asking if I'd watched it last night. From what I can gather there's a bunch of self-centred himbos and bimbettes pretending that they've got real lives. Creak, grate, scratch - is that the sound of barrels being scraped in C4 HQ?
Alister McClure, UK

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See also:

18 Aug 00 | Entertainment
'Nasty Nick' faces TV grilling
18 Aug 00 | Entertainment
'Nasty Nick': I'm no villain
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