Saturday, August 28, 2010

Big Brother : Some formats can't be left alone

Probably the most peculiar thing about Big Brother this year is that it's taking place at all. The decision was made a full twelve months ago that the format has well and truly had its day - so, bearing that in mind, what was the case for effectively cramming no fewer than three more series of the show (celebrity, regular, and "ultimate") into the last eight months? The obvious conclusion to draw is that the concept still has legs, and that we're probably not witnessing the final series at all - just the last one before a very long pause. Big Brother may not be a conventional game show, but it's worth noting that virtually every hit game show of the past has been resurrected eventually, sometimes after more than a decade - witness Mastermind, The Generation Game, and The Krypton Factor. Actually, Mastermind is a very good example, because the producers imagined they had definitively brought the show to an end with a "last ever series" to coincide with a significant anniversary (the 25th) - sound familiar? But its demise turned out to be merely a very temporary deep freeze. Another iconic show that tempted fate (and tried the audience's patience) with a supposed "last ever episode" was Top of the Pops - and yet it was easily predictable that the Christmas specials would be revived soon enough. Some formats just can't be left alone.

But, nevertheless, this is the end for the time being - so, to that extent, where did it all go wrong? 'Nasty' Nick Bateman wrote an article on that very subject before (rather hypocritically, it has to be said) returning to the house himself, and although he seems absurdly prudish about the "depraved" antics in Series 6, I think he hits the nail on the head on one point - the near-universal panning of Series 4, won by Orcadian Cameron Stout, was a huge defining moment. That series had, after all, been a worthy attempt to get "back to basics" and simply allow a group of relatively normal people to interact naturally, without the interference of too many gimmicks. But from Series 5 onwards, the integrity of the game (symbolised by the "you decide" catchphrase) was routinely sacrificed in favour of increasingly contrived - and sometimes downright cruel - "twists" to keep things interesting at all costs. The nadir arrived with Series 7 - up till then, at least the integrity of the public vote had been considered sacrosanct, but no more. The producers wanted "boring" Susie out at the end of the penultimate week, but Mikey was inconveniently topping the public vote by a country mile. What was to be done? No problem - it was simply casually announced midway through the vote that it was going to be a double eviction instead. The disrespect for the public's verdict was then compounded by Davina McCall fawning over Mikey and assuring him that he'd been a "brilliant housemate", while Susie was sternly asked why she'd wasted everyone's time by taking part.

And the trend continues right to the present. The "you decide" principle would have meant the most popular housemates from the past taking part in the "ultimate" finale - ie. the winner from each previous series, or if they had refused their place, the highest-ranking runner-up available. Instead we're presented with a selection of the allegedly "most memorable",, Coolio and Preston. With her ready-made back-story of heartbreak, and as one of the few genuinely nice people in the house, it seems inevitable that Preston's ex-wife Chantelle will now emerge as a very popular winner, but I have a feeling she'll be scratching her head as much as anyone about how it was even possible for her to wind up as the 'champion of champions'.

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