CBS revamps ‘Big Brother’

More players, more cameras, new look to enhance skein

“Big Brother” will return to CBS July 5 — and new exec producer Arnold Shapiro is vowing a total makeover of the reality skein.

“This is a whole new production,” Shapiro said in an interview with Daily Variety.

Since coming on board “Brother” in March, Shapiro has been busy remaking the show from top to bottom. While the concept remains the same — a group of strangers lives together in a house under constant video surveillance — almost everything else about the format is being tweaked.

Behind the scenes, Shapiro and co-exec producer Allison Grodner have turned to the world of daytime television, bringing in five-year “General Hospital” vet Lisa Levenson to serve as supervising producer of the skein, which is being produced by Arnold Shapiro Prods. in association with Endemol USA.

Among the major changes to the show’s format:

  • The number of house guests has been upped to 12 from 10. Competition will now be an integral part of the series, with house guests squaring off to win privileges and luxury items, as well as protection from being evicted from the house. As previously announced, players will vote each other out of the house; last season, viewers determined the fate of contestants (Daily Variety, March 27).

    “Unlike last year, the competitions will be relevant to living in the house — not party games and things that don’t have any relation to the show,” Shapiro said. “The results will affect how (players) live in the house.”

  • Show will now air in hourlong installments Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; the Thursday edition, in which players are evicted, will air live. Last summer, the program aired up to six times per week, with most segs running 30 minutes.

    The change will give producers more time to edit each show, thus increasing the chances for drama.

    “To us, ‘Big Brother’ is a real-life soap opera. Last year, there wasn’t enough time (between episodes) to put the show together,” Shapiro said. “We will have the opportunity now to structure shows that are more dramatic, more interesting and have a definite story arc to them.”

  • The Studio City house where “Brother” is based is being completely remodeled. The utilitarian Ikea furniture is out. In its place: eclectic, upscale digs from various Los Angeles boutiques.

    “It’s a place you’d actually like to live in,” Shapiro said.

    The infamous “Big Brother” chickens are also being scratched. New this year will be a basketball court and added exercise equipment.

  • While viewers will no longer vote out house guests, Shapiro is exploring interactive segments in which auds will determine certain elements of the game. “If a conflict comes up, the public might vote (how to resolve it),” he said.

  • The oft-criticized “Big Brother” theme song used last season will be replaced; other new music and graphics are also in the works. The number of cameras in the house has also been upped, to 37 from last year’s 28.

One thing will remain the same about “Brother”: Julie Chen is back as host of the Thursday live broadcast. She’ll no longer interview evictees in front of a studio audience, however.

“We are constructing a brand-new mini-compound for her in the front yard of the ‘Big Brother’ house,” Shapiro said. “It was strange that, before, Julie was removed from the house. Now, when house guests are evicted, they’ll step outside and walk 15 feet” to be debriefed by Chen.

Shapiro admits that one key to success for a show like “Brother” is the cast. Last year’s clan was criticized for being too dull, and at one point in the series, contestants seemed to revolt and not cooperate with producers.

Cast livened up

With twice as many applicants for this year’s edition of “Brother” — more than 3,400 — Shapiro is confident that this year’s cast of six men and six women will gel.

“Just looking at the (audition) tapes, I know the casting is going to be superb,” he said. “We have such good candidates to choose from. …They’re delightfully quirky, outgoing, competitive and passionate about being on this program.”

“Big Brother” is expected to run for nearly 11 weeks, wrapping up its second season in mid-September.

Shapiro and CBS both declined to say whether AOL will return as the show’s Internet partner.

Promo platform

The original U.S. run of “Big Brother” took numerous hits from critics and failed to generate Nielsen numbers anywhere near those of the Eye’s other big reality show of last summer, “Survivor.” Nonetheless, the program did boost the net’s overall summer performance and helped CBS hype its fall 2000 sked.

“The biggest myth is that we were unhappy with the ratings for ‘Big Brother,’ ” said CBS scheduling and program planning guru Kelly Kahl. Had “Survivor” not dominated last summer, “Brother’s” demo successes might have seemed more impressive, Kahl argued.

As for this summer, “If we can do a better show, which everyone thinks we can, there’s no reason the numbers can’t improve,” Kahl said.