Aug 19, 2011


For a decade the first night of Big Brother signaled the beginning of summer for fans, but the latest run is premiering in the middle of August on Channel 5 (who've bought the rights to the show after Channel 4 axed it last year). It's a bad time to launch, made worse by the bizarre decision to kick-start BB's return with a celebrity special that will segue into the regular show. This means that the "proper" show won't start till September, when the weather's cooling, and continue throughout autumn!

top-bottom: Amy Childs, Tara Reid,
Jedward, Kerry Katona & Darryn Lyons
People underestimate the power of seasons and weather when scheduling television. Big Brother has been synonymous with summer for over a decade. Housemates sunbathing in the garden was a recurring motif of the show's live-feed (absent this year), while the celebrity version always arrived in January to blow away wintry post-Christmas blues. It seems as crazy as moving Wimbledon to October.

At the very least you'd think Channel 5 would know it makes more sense to do a regular Big Brother first, then extend the run with a celebrity version. The problem with reversing that order is how it risks people becoming bored of the house, and perhaps the whole show, by the time the celebs are all evicted and a rabble of strangers are thrown in.

To be honest, whichever version of BB airs first, the "double bill" is the larger issue. Why not have a normal version in August through October (if they must), leave the celeb version for January-February, and then get the next regular version on-air by June as usual?

Anyway, Celebrity Big Brother returned last night with a 90-minute launch, which was practically identical to those Channel 4 aired for 11 years. If slightly tighter, with a few improvements. The celebs no longer arrived in pointless limousine (which have literally travelled about 50 metres), but instead walk through the opening iris of a giant Big Brother eye-symbol—like something out of Stargate SG1.

Our new host is Brian Dowling (the winner of Big Brother 2, crowned Ultimate Big Brother champion last summer) who replaces Davina McCall. I was braced for a disaster, but Dowling was surprisingly confident and assured. After so many years watching the relative shambles of McCall (tottering around pulling faces and fumbling her words), Dowling struck a calmer, cheeky tone. You could argue he was comparatively boring, which is true to some extent, but as a debut it was a good start. He just needs to reflect some of the show's lunacy—which MCall, love her or hate her, always put across in her own performance. There's room for improvement, but Dowling acquitted himself nicely.

As for the celebrity housemates themselves, well... after weeks being teased about the possibility of Pamela Anderson and Charlie Sheen entering the house, the actual bookings were a disappointment. There were only a handful of housemates you'd refer to as "celebrities", and even those were firmly on the C-list.

The big four were beautician Amy Childs, star of The Only Way Is Essex where she's known for "vajazzling" customers; actress Tara Reid, half-remembered for American Pie, but best-known for falling out of nightclubs drunk; Irish identical twins Jedward, the X Factor novelty act whose sheer lunacy has turned them into cult favourites; and Kerry Katona, the ex-popstar who became famous-for-being-famous thanks to a turbulent love life and public meltdown. The rest were significantly less famous, if you can imagine such a possibility: Darryn Lyons, the egotistical Aussie paparazzo with a pink mohican haircut; Lucien Laviscount, a handsome Coronation Street actor; Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House who infamously posed in nothing but a towel for a tabloid; Paddy Docherty, the Irish star of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding; Pamela Bach-Hasselhoff, ex-wife of David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff; and Bobby Sabel, a hunky male model nobody's ever heard of.

top-bottom: Lucien Laviscount, Sally
Bercow, Paddy Docherty, Pamela
Bach-Hasselhoff & Bobby Sable
The star-power's dim, but that's usually the way with Celebrity Big Brother. It perhaps didn't help with negotiations that the show's moved to Channel 5, which is seen a low-rent channel, thus eroding the feeling that an appearance will revive a stalling (or non-existent) showbiz career. If this year's show is a big success, expect a better lineup for 2012. Of course, fame has nothing to do with making a great show. It's all about personalities and chemistry. If the housemates are fun, entertaining, shocking, outspoken, and argumentative, who cares if you've never heard of them. In fact, lesser-known celebrities are often a better booking because they're usually less guarded and more willing to stand out from the crowd. I already sense that Sally and Pamela will be bigger personalities than they are celebrities. And that's just as it should be.

You can't judge the success of a reality show on its opening night, especially as nothing has happened in the house yet—beyond Kerry being given a secret task to get herself voted the group's biggest diva. The only thing you can judge Big Brother on from the launch night is the production itself (good, well-paced, no major hiccups), and the performance of host Dowling (who, as I said, was fine).

The only flaw was how the launch offered absolutely nothing we haven't seen before. Channel 5 delivered no big reinvention of the previous launches, just cosmetic changes (like having iconic BB narrator Marcus Bentley describe the housemates as they entered the house instead of the presenter). Even "the twist" of a secret task was something the show's done numerous times before, so it fell rather flat.

But hey, Celebrity Big Brother 2011 not have given us any sweeping changes, but the refinements were decent, and I'm sure most fans are just happy to see the show back on-air. I just hope Channel 5 find ways to improve Big Brother in more noticeable ways, especially as it'll be running into the chillier months (less bikini's for the Daily Star's front pages), while vying for column inches against X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.

Big Brother usually has the summer all to itself, but now it's swimming with major competition. It doesn’t stand a chance of winning this battle, especially given its new home, but Channel 5 are just after a steady hit. The launch attracted an impressive 5.1 million viewers, making it Channel 5's fourth most-watched show ever, which is fantastic news for them. I just wonder how far those numbers will drop, as they undoubtedly will.


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