summer obsessions: big brother (uk)


(One of my favorite ways to spend the time: creating new versions of BBUK’s iconic eye logo. Here’s one I did out of the binary code for the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you.’ )

Summer used to be the most boring time of the year for television. Lately though, as networks have relegated repeats to the lands of DVD and specialty cable channels, there’s been an upsurge in original content. I’ll go through some of my favorite summer series in the next couple weeks.

I want to start tonight by talking about Big Brother‘s United Kingdom incarnation, which is set to begin new life on a new network (Channel 5) in August. This comes after its original home, Channel 4, canceled the series last summer. I, like many BBUK fans, are thrilled the show is coming back.

I used to get thrilled when I’d hear about renewals of CBS’ American Big Brother each summer. I’m not thrilled anymore. If ever you want to talk about beating a dead horse, look to Big Brother. (Warning, harsh criticism alert). I was on board with the show through its first season, despite its many problems, and rolled with the format change in 2001.

Explanation time: Originally, Big Brother‘s USA counterpart ran like every other international version: stick 10 total strangers in a house, let them cohabitate, give them challenges to earn food and pass the time, and let the public vote out someone every so often. Unfortunately we couldn’t grasp the concept, and we ended up voting out people based on how much friction they caused. This led to a boring show for the bulk of the summer. So in 2001 the format was changed: out went public voting, and the game became ‘Survivor with studio lighting,’ as one contestant once called it.

For awhile, that was fine: we’d get an interesting mix of people and got to observe how they behaved when enticed with various levels of power within the house. But now, as of the last three seasons, the people going in have been made to look vapid and dull (if such a combination could even exist,) and it’s been made worse by making the show so formulaic that even the Head of Household power competitions have been re-used again and again and again.

This is why I started turning to archived episodes of BB UK via YouTube. The look and feel of the show is notedly different than ours, and adheres closer to the original format. Another thing I like is the Diary Room segments. In America, the Diary Room is chiefly used for the producers to record Housemates (HouseGuests in BBUSA lingo) narrating their own activities in the house, taking the place of a wonderfully accented, personable announcer. (Hi, @MarcusBBBentley!) The UK diary room is used properly, as the one secure place Housemates can go to share their feelings with Big Brother.

That in itself is my biggest gripe. Big Brother is nothing more than a name in the USA: In the UK, Big Brother is a faceless entity, an onlooker, an overlord of sorts. Housemates talk to Big Brother. Big Brother responds. American Big Brother is primarily pre-recorded announcements you rarely hear on screen: “Marcellas. Please go to the Diary Room. Jessie. Stop that!”

In short: BBUSA stopped trying a long time ago. With each UK version, you can see a lot of time and effort goes into producing a show people will talk about in the morning, creating a look that is visually stunning and attractive, and picking people who are actually interesting and engaging.

As far as Big Brother goes, consider me an expatriate. I think I’m the only American with one of Daniel Eatock’s amazing Eye logos tattooed on him.



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