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University researcher Janet Jones
"These people were branded in a certain way"
 real 28k

Friday, 19 January, 2001, 11:53 GMT
The 'damage' of Big Brother
Craig Phillips
Craig Phillips: Viewers' favourite won 70,000
Research carried out in Wales into the cult television series Big Brother has concluded that such programmes could do more harm than good.

Academics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, have been quizzing viewers about their reaction to the hit Channel 4 programme which used web cameras to spy round the clock on a group of house-sharers.

Mel and Andy
Millions tuned in to see Mel and Andy getting friendly

Each week, members of the group would nominate two people for eviction. The British public would then vote via the telephone for the person they wanted out of the house.

Janet Jones, who has been leading the research team hopes that a full paper on the subject will be published in a year's time.

It should show why the phenomenon dubbed "reality TV" is so popular and what viewers like about programmes which concentrate on everyday life and human failings.

Ms Jones, who lectures in film and television at the university, said viewers love the "warts and all" approach.

But the impact on those at the centre of the real-life dramas can be devastating, she said.

"The after-effects of sudden celebrity on the participants of such programmes as Airport, Paddington Green and Big Brother can be quite harrowing for the "synthetic stars", their family and friends," she explained.

Web cameras

When it was launched in July 2000, the voyeuristic Big Brother was a revolutionary step in television history - offering viewers the unique package of a docusoap which went further than any other.

When each show ended, viewers could log onto the website and - thanks to a host of strategically-placed web cameras in the house - continue watching the goings-on.

Highlights included "Nasty" Nick's eviction, Tom's massaging techniques and Andrew's lingering kiss with Melanie.

Nick Bateman
"Nasty" Nick Bateman, who broke the show rules
Questionnaires filled in by more than 11,000 visitors to the Big Brother website revealed there had been strong reaction to the series, according to the research.

Some said it "brought out the worst in the viewer", encouraging them to strongly favour certain housemates and dislike others.

"The Big Brother audience strongly identified with the characters in the house, needing to either love them or hate them," Ms Jones said.

Counselling

Endemol TV, the production company behind the programme, has taken its responsibility for the house-mates seriously.

It has given the "stars" of the show five years of after-care counselling.

Ms Jones has her own ideas why people enjoy watching video diaries, fly-on-the-wall documentaries and docusoaps.

She says the true-to-life element provides a "strong psychological fascination".

But she adds that, in the case of Big Brother, many of those questioned said they would not have been as gripped if they had not been able to watch the characters via the programme website.

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