So Big Brother is being evicted from the C4 schedules and it’s time to measure its legacy. It’s not all bad. BB certainly did revolutionise TV programming: along with coverage of Wimbledon and Glastonbury, it helped popularise the use of the “red button” to access other video streams; it also brought in phone voting, connecting the audience with what was happening on screen in a way that’s taken for granted on Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor.
The first Celebrity Big Brother – with Vanessa Feltz and Jack Dee – aired as part of a Comic Relief effort but soon became its own brand as commissioners realised how popular celebrity contestants could be in a reality show. I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here launched on ITV in 2002 and since then we’ve had all the Hell’s Kitchen, Celebrity Apprentice nightmares a reality TV fan could possibly want, with minor celebs competing in constructed reality situations.
None of this existed back in 2000 when the first series of Big Brother went out. Back then we thought Driving School was a reality show and Maureen Rees was a star.
At first, the TV industry didn’t think of BB as entertainment. It was launched – in the same year as Castaway 2000 – with producers talking about it as a “social experiment”. Some even wondered whether it should be thought of as a documentary. I was on a panel at the Edinburgh TV Festival in 2000 which considered exactly this. Sada (remember her?) had just been evicted from the BB house and was with us. It soon became clear it was best to think of the BB juggernaut as entertainment and keep it that way.
A C4 executive, Julian Bellamy, wrote compellingly yesterday about his 10-year involvement with BB and I agree with almost everything he says.
Apart from the point about BB being “a remarkable insight into the values and behaviour of the noughties generation”. Bellamy may be right that “For the first time, this generation was given a voice on mainstream television.” But I don’t think the programme simply observed the values and behaviour of a generation – I think it may have helped shape those values as well.
I used to believe the media simply held up a mirror to society. But now that I’m a staid, old mother of two I am beginning to subscribe to the idea that the media makes attitudes as well as reflecting them.
BB was part of the phenomenon that encompasses Heat, Hannah Montana and WAGs. A phenomenon that urges everyone (every girl) to be first a Brat and then another Katie Price, famous for being famous, celebrated not for particular talents (unless talents = tits) but for having appeared on television or in print.
It will be fascinating to see whether, and where, the tide is turning against this wave of wannabe popstars.