With 2,000 tapes to go through, casting to begin in March

CBS has greenlit production on the fourth season of reality hit “Big Brother,” inking a deal with Arnold Shapiro and Allison Grodner to remain as exec producers/showrunners.

Casting on “Big Brother 4″ will begin mid-March, under the supervision of Robyn Kass, although producers have already received roughly 2000 videotapes from potential contestants. Skein, from Shapiro/Grodner Prods. and Endemol USA, will air this summer; Eye is still mulling how many times per week the show will air and when it will bow.

Deal for Shapiro and Grodner locks the producers in for two more seasons, though the second year is contingent on the series getting renewed for summer 2004. “Early Show” co-anchor Julie Chen is expected to return as host.

“(‘Big Brother’) has become a huge franchise for us,” said CBS alternative guru Ghen Maynard. “The show’s a blast, and it’s just so cool how many twists and turns you can have on a show where things happened just a day or two (before airtime.)”

Raves for duo

As for Grodner and Shapiro, Maynard said the duo “have done a terrific job. We’re enthusiastic about what surprises they have in store to keep things fresh.”

Shapiro said he and Grodner couldn’t imagine not coming back as producers of “Big Brother.”

“We were honored that CBS asked us to do it,” he said. “And we will be coming up with new twists and turns in the game to leep it fresh and exciting and unpredictable.”

Grodner added that the basic format of the show, which locks a group of strangers into a Studio City home for a couple of months and deprives them of contact with the outside world, would remain the same.

“It’s not about messing with the format,” she said. “The challenge will be mixing it up yet again with something that’s unexpected. It’s a balancing act.”

Summer tentpole

“Big Brother” has been one of the Eye’s chief summer tentpoles the past two seasons, adding audience every year it’s been on. Skein frequently won its timeslot in adults 18-49 last summer, with the show’s third season finale drawing a 5.6 rating/14 share in the key demo.

While this summer promises to be the most competitive warm weather frame ever for broadcast TV — with dozens of new and returning reality formats set to bow — Grodner believes “BB4″ will be able to compete.

“We had a steady audience that grew all last summer, so I think people will be looking for it,” she said.

CAA-repped Shapiro/Grodner has a busy development slate in the works as well as two new reality skeins set to bow in the coming weeks.

“Family Business,” which follows a family-run adult-entertainment dynasty, premieres Saturday night on Showtime before settling into its regular Friday slot.

And next month, the Shapiro/Grodner-produced reality skein “The Family” begins a multiweek run on ABC.

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