Why Celebrity Big Brother’s ‘changes’ aren’t enough
Celebrity Big Brother 2018 is currently in full swing and response to the show by the majority of viewers has been extremely positive. Many viewers both fans and casual have been singing the praises of a show that had become a parody of itself.
However, it is Day 15 and the facade that Celebrity Big Brother placed is starting to slip. It’s beginning to look a lot like every other Channel 5 series, albeit with a better mix of housemates. Let me explain.
This article is intended to be a follow-up to an article I wrote after Celebrity Big Brother 2017 (winter), explaining many of the things the show needed to do in order to win back its viewers before it was too late (I fear it’s too late now). If you haven’t, go and take a read by clicking here and then come back.
Are you back? Wonderful! That means I didn’t bore you rigid and I must have made some sense, right?
Everything I am about to suggest, state/write etc, comes out of no other place than wanting this show to be successful, to be Big Brother. I am a viewer that has watched since day one in the year 2000 and has never missed an episode (where’s my trophy?). Rightly or wrongly, I believe I understand this format and what makes it watchable more than most. I believe that fresh ideas are always good to try in Big Brother if done correctly. Nothing I say comes from any place other than love for what this show can be.
Before this series began I was extremely pessimistic. I thought “here we go again, another rubbish series”. I have stuck by Big Brother on Channel 5 under a belief that it could one day get better however recently I have felt that it was just not going to happen. However, with the knowledge that the contract for Big Brother is currently set to end in 2018, I wanted to finish this 18 year journey.
(My pessimism certainly wasn’t helped by the digital team of Big Brother 2017 who blocked me on Twitter for a joke I made on my personal Twitter account. The joke was controversial, but when you’ve got Dapper Laughs signed up to your next series it sort of pales in comparison considering I never entered a contract with Endemol on how I’d run my own personal Twitter account.. – One rule for one, one rule for another I guess. I continue to be blocked to this day despite being, in my opinion one of the biggest superfans this show has ever had and ever will have, despite apologising to their then head of digital and despite other fans contacting BB to reverse that decision. I gave up on that last year. I guess they’ve never heard of the “mute” button if they didn’t want to see my tweets). I could go much deeper in to this one, but private rant over…
Flash forward to this series and I was taken aback by how incredible the first highlights show was. The emotion I felt seeing the show I thought had died come back, at least in some ways, was huge to me.
Lets start with what Celebrity Big Brother got right and wrong in 2018 so far in a quick summary, then some in detail.
What this series got right:
- A truly diverse cast for the first time in a long time in many levels, especially in age
- Putting housemates like Daniel in to ‘year of the woman’ – despite the flack from some quarters of Twitter, it was a great decision that felt very well thought out from a social experiment perspective especially in a woman themed series after his history.
- Big Brother leaving housemates to work out differences between themselves. Not giving warnings or kicking out housemates that do not subscribe to the ‘liberal’ way of thinking, as they have done in recent series
- Tasks that have been really enjoyable to watch and actual challenges for the housemates, a big change from recent series
- An edit that feels a lot more natural, with no corny pre-recorded close-ups of housemates pulling faces at the camera between scenes
- An edit that showed exactly what housemates are saying, even when it is negative about the series, tasks or things that are considered by some to be ‘offensive’ – That’s what Big Brother has always done best: breaking down social barriers by shining a light on both the good AND bad on society
- Better use of the ‘Previously’ segment during the show to remind viewers when housemates are bare-faced lying, such as India and the bed etc.
- Not just catering to the lowest common denominator viewer, and remembering the a vast number watching do in fact have a brain and an attention span
- Marcus Bentley toning down his over the top narration from recent series, and adding jokes (however he should stop at telling the audience what to think about housemates like the “spit it out Rachel” moment)
- Introductory VT’s on launch night which showed housemates in a natural light, instead of “yeah I’m a horrible person”
- Making sure the audience applaud housemates (a pro on launch night at least, I’m yet to be convinced on evictions)
- Not being afraid to mix things up on eviction nights compared to the norm, for better or worse
- Keeping (so far) to the ‘two or more with the most nominations are up for eviction’ rule
- Following through with the pre-series ‘theme’ and launch twist ideas throughout the series
- Incredible new drone shots of the house (albeit wildly overused in each episode as the series has gone on)
- A slick house with a new sauna – new rooms are always exciting for fans!
- Emma Willis looking genuinely happy to be presenting the show for the first time in a while
- Bit On The Side mixing the show up a little in terms of the guests they have booked on
What this series didn’t get right:
- No live feed – the most important part of Big Brother in creating a buzz for the show and increasing ratings in the digital age for ‘event TV’
- Social media being off-the-mark. Too much time spent creating images or 3D stuff, when the impression I get is that they have a small digital crew. Make better use of the time by creating more exclusive videos and posting more meaningful updates from the house
- Tasks that didn’t have any place in the format of the show. (Meaning tasks with no impact on the housemates whether they passed or failed it).
- No shopping tasks at all
- Shopping budget being given to housemates automatically with no information on how much they had to spend or why
- Over the top and increasingly distracting use of random commercial music in highlights shows
- Marcus’ narration humour starting to be leading to the viewer on how to think about a scene before they see it, thus resulting in a manipulated edit and the game being harmed
- Refusing again to keep the viewing public involved in upcoming twists. eg this week a nominations twist is happening on Thursday. This was only announced after nominations had taken place in the house and also after nominations had been revealed on Bit On The Side as if they were final. This comes across as manipulation and unfair on the game and it really does anger viewers with an attention span
- Refusing to let the public know the format of the show. It’s very exciting for the audience to know how the series is going to work. No evictions on the first two Tuesdays? Diary room nominations coming up? Great! Say that from the off, and perhaps give a reason. INCLUDE the audience. CREATE the buzz. Channel 4 / Davina always did and the show was much more of an active experience for it.
- Still not realising that ‘twists’ are no longer impactful to the audience at all when they are used on every nomination and eviction process – There needs to be at the very least a completely natural week true to the Big Brother format on week one to set the tone
- An over reliance on any twists being connected to only nominations and evictions like they are the only part of the format. There are many other parts of the show that can be added in or changed to produce a twist that doesn’t require game changing ‘powers’ every week, and that would create far more interesting television – eg. The gender with the ‘power’ have a luxury shopping budget, the gender without have a poor shopping budget, giving housemates genuine reason to fight for the power and creating natural drama
- An over the top focus on showmances within the edit, to the point it impacts the show in two ways. A) we only see the housemates involved in a showmance doing things as part of the showmance in the edit and not having normal conversations with anyone else and B) spending so much time on showmances no-one cares about means other housemates do not get seen
- Relegating housemates to not being on the edit such as Shane Lynch and Maggie. This happens every single series on Channel 5, for no reason at all. The edit should encompass every housemate as much as it can in some form.
- Bit On The Side not really offering anything ‘additional’ to the series experience. Airing ‘exclusive’ clips that will air in the next days main episode doesn’t really work. Either air exclusives that won’t air, OR air exclusives that didn’t make it in to that days main show to make the companion show feel relevant to the audience and worth watching
- The interview with India seems to have improved on recent series, however both Emma and Rylan still seem scared, or at the very least, apologetic, to ask the questions the public really want to hear. For example, Rylan asked India about the images of her outside with Drag Queens, but skimmed over the question pretty quickly as if he was ashamed to ask it. Get more out of the housemates, you’ve got one shot before they go back to their agents!
- Warnings before each segment of the show are corny and at times more offensive than the conversations themselves. At times we were told to ‘be prepared for conversations about gender’ as if that is supposed to be offensive? I am however grateful that they’ve at least toned down on the ludicrously OTT warnings (essays) of seasons passed.
They filled the house with a really diverse cast, featuring a big mix of age, background, race, sexual orientation and otherwise.
That’s great! Why? Because Big Brother is a social experiment and THAT is its unique selling point, no matter how many times some dullard celebrity on Twitter (or worse, Bit On The Side) will try to tell you it’s all about the arguments and shouting matches, it is not. They can go and watch Geordie Shore along with a load of 14 year olds. Bye.
Big Brother is a social experiment and it has been great to see different people from different backgrounds discussing real issues, minor issues, their own lives etc and hearing those conversations. It has made every episode of the show so far an absolute ‘must watch’. The producers need to thank their lucky stars that they booked Shane J and Ann, who have fed much of the discussions on opposite sides of the spectrum.
The show has also taken a different tone, deciding to focus less on manipulating the housemates to shout at each other, and more to see natural drama unfold. I have always held the belief that that is VITAL. For me, nothing beats an entirely natural argument unfold over a constructed one. Especially the ones featuring reality stars who you know are only shouting to try to extend their 15 minutes of fame to 16. When it is fake, it becomes boring, and the only people who find fakery exciting are the odd ‘dumb’ viewer.
The ‘dumb’ viewers are not loyal to Big Brother. They’ll go to any show where something big is happening. Therefore Big Brother catering to natural action is much more exciting to a different brand a viewer, a more LOYAL viewer.
The viewers they unfortunately lost through 7 years of chasing the ‘dumb’ viewer.
How do you combat the ‘dumb’ viewer calling the show boring? That’s the question Channel 5 don’t quite know the answer to. Big Brother on Channel 4 didn’t have arguments and bust ups every night, or scripted reality stars going nuts, or incidental music to try to keep the ‘dumb’ attention – so how did they do it?
Very simple. A game show. Rules. A sense of purpose for Big Brother where Big Brother was a character in himself. A FORMAT.
If you read my aforementioned article you’ll see me list copious reasons why live feed should return. I am still adamant that the fundamental way you will see ratings grow with a Big Brother that is natural is purely with online, streamed, 24/7 live feed. However I am not going to go over all of that again.
What I will say, however, is that if you are reading this and you have any clout in the decision behind live feed – READ. IT. My aim with it is to make you open your eyes that have been so closed in this digital, fast-paced and information age. It will grow Big Brother in 2018 beyond your imagination.
Along with live feed, Big Brother requires a format. Over the years Channel 5 has slowly destroyed the whole format of Big Brother in almost every single way.
What do I mean by format? It’s quite simple really.
I do not mean that Big Brother has to fully go “back to basics”. It CAN renew, it CAN reinvigorate and it CAN surprise viewers. However, there must be a structure.
A proper Big Brother format includes the following things, to name a few:
-Diary room nominations as a standard, not a rarity, on a fixed day of the week.
-Two or more housemates with the most nominations to save eviction. (Why? Because this enhances the game. It gives the housemates a reason to play the game. If they avoid nominations they can win).
-No outside contact whatsoever.
-Weekly shopping tasks that last a few days, with clear emphasis on how to pass or fail and what the reward for winning is, or what you get when you lose.
Big Brother DOES NOT have to have all of the above. However if you want to win viewers with an IQ higher than 5 you need to be clear from the off what the rules are for the viewer.
One thing that is missing from this series of Big Brother that I believe is integral to the show is the weekly shopping task. This is integral for so many reasons.
First of all, a task that lasts a few days gives the viewers a reason to tune in the next night. This is something Channel 4 realised early and is very important when making a Big Brother that isn’t forcing the housemates to argue daily. They are extremely memorable and some of the best parts of Big Brother history are the proper tasks.
This then ties in with the game show aspect of the show – a shopping task that results in a luxury shopping budget, or a poor budget. (The amounts should be stated in the show!)
Something as simple as that gives the viewer a reason to tune in after the task – if they lose, the viewers know they have to struggle, they know the housemates will be moody and the arguments could kick off because of it. If they win, they know the housemates will be enjoying themselves and they could be in for a week of humour!
The actual tasks this series have been of a much better calibre than in recent series, and we can rejoice about that. However, on many occasion they are appearing out of nowhere, with no reason, no obvious rules for winning or losing explained the viewer and no reward stated to the viewer.
This results in a passive experience for viewers. Proper tasks that are part of the format are an active experience for the viewers and will engage them more. It’ll lead them to think it’s not just for “filler” and dis-spell the idea that “not much else is going on if they’re showing this”. It engages viewers more and makes them invest and think about the show much more, leading to higher retainment figures for viewers in my belief.
The tasks must tie in with something that genuinely means something to the housemates if they pass or fail, it makes much more exciting TV than “oh, they won yet another party, great, because Big Brother wouldn’t have given them alcohol regardless..”
This series, Big Brother is clearly going for a battle of the sexes theme in each task, which is great! However they seem to think that the audience will be satisfied that chucking these tasks in just to see which half wins is enough. It isn’t. Not for Big Brother.
What they should have done is tied each task in to a weekly “who has the power” reward, instead of just one of those tasks being the power reward. The winners of each individual task could be rewarded points and the team with the highest score at the end of the week could win the power. That gives the throwaway tasks a REASON to exist in the Big Brother format.
Big Brother on Channel 5 seems to really dislike long-term day and night tasks, and seems to prefer tasks that take place within an hour, that they can edit out if anything big happens in the evening.
[EDIT: However, since writing, they seem to have placed a two-day task in to the house for the first time in while, rejoice!]
Whilst I disagree with Channel 5’s view, there are ways that they can keep that style but still actually have a format for the show.
As I explained in my previous article, an idea for this would be to have daily tasks on Saturday to Tuesday which contribute points to an overall pot (even better if they are all themed in a similar way) – then a massive task on Wednesday which is the overall pass or fail, which uses the points accumulated beforehand to give the housemates an advantage or a disadvantage at the start.
It’s very important that the ‘weekly’ shopping tasks are indeed weekly. All viewers with an IQ higher than 5 will have balked at Big Brother handing Wayne a chalkboard and saying it was time for their ‘weekly’ shopping budget on Day 12 of the series.
If they want a show that is catering to a wider audience, they need to cater to people with an attention span. That, above all else, is extremely vital in winning back a mix of viewers.
Nominations and twists have become a complete mess on Channel 5. The program regularly manipulates twists in order to try to save certain housemates from eviction. My argument would be that if casting did their job properly in the first place, they wouldn’t need to manipulate who stays and who goes.
However, if they do want to have a twist to nominations each week then fine, but again they MUST make it in to a format and they MUST make it clear to viewers what is happening BEFORE nominations take place each week.
Stating that a “twist” will happen after nominations have occurred reeks of producer manipulation and again will switch off viewers with an attention span and stir up resentment towards the show.
Have nominations as normal, in the diary room. If Big Brother wants to refresh the format they could borrow Big Brother Australia’s ‘points’ nominations, where housemates can spread their two nominations across points. Therefore they could make one of their nominations more powerful than the other.
In addition, Big Brother could then emulate Big Brother 11’s “Save and Replace” task. This gives the show an opportunity to place an exciting task in the house, and get more footage for the show. The nominated housemates face the task and the winner gets to save themselves from eviction but they have to place another housemate up for eviction in their place. This style can save big housemates and is exciting. However again to make it in to a format have it on a fixed day each week, along with a fixed day for nominations.
In an ideal world my Big Brother week would be structured something like this:
On the show: Eviction airs
In the house: Shopping task concludes with the biggest and hardest task of the week. This can be a two-day task sometimes on to tomorrow, or as part of yesterdays task (part 4)
On the show: Shopping task airs along with live show aftermath
In the house: ‘Secret task’ takes place in-house which can result in a Friday night party if they pass. Shopping is ordered from housemates during the day.
On the show: Secret task airs along with possible party & shopping is ordered.
In the house: Nominations take place
On the show: Nominations air
In the house: Nominations are revealed to housemates in the morning. Save & Replace task takes place in the evening after housemates have had time to digest the results.
On the show: Noms reveal along with Save & Replace task airs
In the house: Part 1 of shopping task takes place in-house
On the show: Part 1 of shopping task airs
In the house: Part 2 of shopping task takes place
On the show: Part 2 of shopping task airs
In the house: Part 3 of shopping task takes place in-house
Repeat the above for the MAJORITY of weeks in the series, with the odd twist, announced in advance to the viewer by Emma on the live show in some weeks.
This allows something to happen every single day, in a fixed format, that means that there will always be something for the viewer to see that actually impacts the house and the viewing experience.
For a lot of people, the things I have written will probably seem pedantic, especially to the producers of the show. However they need to understand what Big Brother is. It’s a social experiment with a game show edge and having no fixed format completely destroys the game show element.
They can still have the odd twist, no one is saying they can’t happen. But here are the rules for twists:
1) If you have a twist one week, you can’t have one the week after.
2) You need to make viewers aware of the twist BEFORE anything happens in-house that could affect the twist (for example, any nominations twist planned needs to be announced before nominations take place in the house)
Whoever is making the decisions at Channel 5 NEEDS to wake up. Fans have been overwhelmingly saying the same thing for 7 years and have been ignored in favour of what Channel 5 believes is best for the show. They have been wrong time and time again.
At times I have felt that this series is run by people who want the show to do well, but simply don’t understand the format. If you need a supervisor for the summer series to help steer it in the right direction, I am free Endemol.
Now I’m sorry, but there is a reason Channel 5 is looked down upon, and this is one of them. Viewers have been demanding live feed for years – With this series’ return to a more social experiment style, with less ‘edited’ arguing to make things look worse than they are, live feed would have been ideal. Instead viewers are ‘treated’ to a pitiful 20-45 minutes of live feed on a Tuesday, late at night.
Viewers have also been screaming for a return to a more natural edit, and less copying of lesser, unconnected shows such as Ex On The Beach, Geordie Shore or The Only Way is Essex. Thankfully, viewers seem to have been listened to this series. But in reality, have they? I do ponder on the question whether changes have been made because somebody finally had a brain wave, or because in many ways they’re just trying to copy Love Island. The question also remains, how long is this change for?
Big Brother this series is on the right track. It’s the first series on Channel 5 that has felt remotely like an actual series of Big Brother. Before this week I had confidence that it would continue in this direction but there are still issues.
The show is morphing back in to a show that resembles other shows more than Big Brother. The distracting use of random commercial and/or Ibiza style dance music has been one criticism continually aimed at the production this series and if anything it’s getting worse each day, with one episode this week cutting from a conversation in the house to music blaring and drone shots for a full THIRTY SECONDS. We only get 42 minutes a night as it is, we don’t need minutes of commercial music to sustain our attention. It feels insulting because it comes across obvious why it’s there.
Sure, have the odd cutaway, but keep them short! Sounds effects or bespoke music are much more effective at creating a brand and keeping it feeling like you’re watching the show you’re watching. Look back at how Channel 4 did it. Different shots every year that went along with the eye branding and sound effects along with it.
My biggest praise in this area comes as this though: Whoever decided to get rid of the shots between scenes of the housemates pulling faces at the camera I LOVE YOU.
The biggest point is this: Big Brother needs to continue to revert back to what made it big to begin with. To think about how the shows unique selling point is very important. To notice how ratings have fallen the more they have tried to copy other shows and remove the format of Big Brother.
Big Brother is probably in its final year – But lets give it one last real push in the summer.
What do you think? Any more points? Comment at the bottom and let me know.
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