“If Davina McCall bellows in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does she still make a sound?” The answer is probably yes. And yelling indiscriminately into wooded areas is perhaps where old shouty-chops will end up as the reality show that started it all finally splutters to a less than triumphant end.
Yes, the iconic, enthralling and infuriating king of reality TV Big Brother, after ten years of subjecting us to witless self-regarding morons and some of the most insufferable berks imaginable, is vanishing from our summer schedules forever.
But as the ubiquitous Big Brother enters its death throes, we at OTB have been experiencing pangs of guilt for all the past BB-baiting that has appeared on these very pages throughout the years. Whilst we haven’t done a complete about turn with our stance on Channel 4’s ghastly freakshow and the maligned ‘reality TV’ genre in general, we have been harking back to simpler times, a decade ago in fact, when this reality TV lark was genuinely something new to our screens.
The year 2000 saw the launch of what was to become a pop-culture behemoth, dominating tabloid pages and registering on the conciousness of even the most curmudgeonly of viewers. Whilst there had been examples of ‘reality TV’ that had appeared on British television screens prior to BB, these had generally been documentary-stlye offerings such as Seven-Up and The Family (1974). The BBC’s Castaway, might well lay claim to being the first reality show proper, though the programme was more of an anthropological experiment with informing and educating as its main aim, wildly different from Big Brother’s frivolous entertainment remit.
BB’s first couple of series’ were quite quaint in comparison to the exhibition of awful pricks it eventually became, eschewing the sensationalist tendencies of the latter Big Brothers. As the people they populated the famous house with got worse with each series, so did the tantrums, mind-games, back-stabbing and desperation levels. Eventually, it was impossible to like almost ANY of the housemates and the show degenerated into a parody of itself – a tawdry freakshow for you to point and laugh at.
Although the Channel 4 idiot-fest is perhaps responsible for creating the television climate we endure at present (packed with flimsy half-baked ‘reality shows’ and omniscient overlord Cowell’s attempt to forcibly reprogram the populace into giving a flying f*ck about the insipid shittery he deems entertainment), the original concept was ground breaking and spawned a plethora of imitations, some bad, some downright awful and some still with us today.
If you think about it, the influence of BB has permeated through television output to the point that it’s hard to name any entertainment shows that do not contain elements of reality TV as we’ve come to know it. Even if you choose to ignore the big ones – I’m A Celebrity, Big Brother, X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Apprentice , you’ll find that a hefty part of the schedules are made up of reality shows, even on obscure satellite channels. From Wife Swap, Coach Trip, and OTB favourite Come Dine With Me on Channel 4, Living’s Britain’s Next Top Model, through to BBC Three’s Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum and the cheap and cheerful Snog, Marry, Avoid . You can’t get away from the bloody things.
Big Brother is also responsible for that other mainstay of crappy sister-channels – the spin-off show. How often do you hear a gormless presenter blather “if you need more of your GENERIC REALITY TV SHOW fix, turn over to ITV3 for GENERIC REALITY TV SHOW EXTRA“? All the chuffing time, that’s when.
And it’s BB we have to thank for these examples of top-quality programming for without them, Claudia Winkleman, Rufus Hound and Iain Lee would go hungry.
Another televisual irritant we can lay at Big Brother’s door is the ferocious inclusion of an interactive element on almost all TV shows. It’s everywhere, phone in, text in, press the red button to release a pack of snarling wolfhounds into the Strictly studio. Even the news for chrisssake, invites us, the ill-informed great unwashed, to call in and have our say.
Not only this, Big Brother has undoubtedly had a hand in the creation of the famous-for-nothing culture we endure today. Whole industries have even sprung up around it – without BB there’d be no Popbitch, Heat wouldn’t have the readership it does and Digital Spy would still be a feeble newsgroup site where people without girlfriends snipe about inconsequential telly nonsense.
These days, the way people chose to consume their entertainment has vastly altered with the advent of Sky+ and applications like BBC iplayer. No longer do folk have to be in at a certain time to catch what they want to watch and consequently, the idea of a landmark show as a shared experience, a programme which people talk about ‘around the water cooler’ has also disappeared.
The technolgical shift has also given rise to a new breed of entertainment, complete with disposable stars churned out with greater frequency than the reality TV conveyor belt can manage. There’s no need to queue up for hours to get on the X-Factor or spend hours making a painfully shit audition tape for Big Brother when you can just do something daft in front of a digital camera, stick it on Youtube , and become an ‘internet sensation’ overnight. Just as well really as the feeble ratings of this last ever Big Brother would suggest that the viewing public has had its fill of nano-celebs and the empty televisual experience offered up by reality TV.
Perhaps now is the right time to end it. Maybe we won’t miss the fame-hungry attention seekers, the epilepsy-inducing live eviction shows, the pantomime hate-figures and Davina gobbing off with the force of a hurricane, but the legacy of Big Brother will be with us for a good while, its influence all too evident in the shows we watch today. Gil Scott-Heron once told us “the revolution will not be televised”. I think it may have been already.