Ten strangers, three months and one network that has taken the reality TV craze one step too far. CBS’ much hyped Euro import “Big Brother” debuted Wednesday night with all of the style and drama of a Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol commercial. Hoping to duplicate the runaway success of its “Survivor” smash, CBS reached a new low in its quest to attract the coveted younger demos and steal viewers away from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
Producers are banking on the notion once again that there’s a Peeping Tom in every viewer, and judging from the success of MTV’s “The Real World,” there’s a certain logic to that. But five days a week of people in a cramped house full of IKEA furniture is like a bad college flashback.
Debut was more of a tease than an actual episode; it was spent with host Julie Chen and field reporter Ian O’Malley touring the Studio City-based house and profiling the 10 people who are voluntarily sequestering themselves for three months for the chance to win $500,000.
That’s hardly action-packed. And what was again painfully obvious is that you no longer need any special talents to become famous. You just have to go on national television and eat fried rats or surrender all of your privacy.
Any one of these 10 contestants could easily preserve their dignity, start a retirement plan and still come out way ahead. But it’s the chance at Kato Kaelin-type fame and notoriety that is really the draw here. Eddie, 21, wants to get into broadcasting. Jamie, 22, is a beauty pageant winner.
The producers have selected a varied group of contestants from rather divergent backgrounds. There’s an exotic dancer, a virgin, a housewife, a couple of students and a roofer among others. One brings a bible with him, another a box of condoms.
The show, which started in Holland and was copied in Germany and Spain, has been a big hit overseas. The concept and rules are fairly simple but designed so that the limitations should heighten the tensions among the group. There are no doors, clocks, radios or computers, but there is a miniscule fridge, a two-hour-a-day hot-water allotment, and lots of cameras — 28 to be exact.
Every other week, one of the housemates is banished, “Survivor” style, in a process that is executed by fellow members but ultimately decided by the viewers. In conjunction with the series, the network has launched an extensive Web site where viewers who have less of a life than the “Big Brother” contestants can watch live video from the house when the show isn’t on. Oh “Brother.”