Big Brother housemates, you are live on ITV2. Please do NOT swear.
That’s right. On Monday night, in an ad break of the Love Island finale, we learned that come 2023, we will have a new series of Big Brother. Same music, same logo but a new channel (again) and presumably some crucial updates for a 2023 audience.
The UK version of Big Brother debuted on Channel 4 in the summer of 2000. For almost two decades, groups of ordinary people, and later celebrities, spent weeks on end living together under 24-hour surveillance broadcast to the nation (at least until viewing figures started to dwindle). They laughed and cried and fought and flirted and wore fancy dress and looked after chickens. In the diary room, they ruthlessly or tearfully nominated each other for eviction. On Friday nights, they gathered, straining to hear any clues from the crowds outside as to how they were faring with the public, to discover who would be exiting the house into the comforting arms of Davina McCall. They. Did. Not. Swear.
When the show returns, it will have been five years since it was last on air, and times have changed. Since the early 2000s, we have devoured reality TV on a colossal scale. Simon Cowell’s talent show empire rose and fell, scripted reality boomed, matchmaking became moneymaking and copycat Bake-Off formats sprang up. In such a crowded marketplace, one might wonder where Big Brother would now fit in (and whether, after two years of being locked down ourselves, watching people trapped in a house together is really something we might still consider entertainment). But based on the fevered social media reaction to Monday night, audiences are hungry for more.
The original Big Brother, dubbed a social experiment, created a blueprint for what reality television could be. It catapulted normal people to enormous fame, changing the very definition of celebrity in the process. In its two-way mirrors, it reflected the best and worst of humanity. It showed that what happens within the construct of a TV gameshow can have real-world consequences and start national conversations about race, sexuality, addiction and wealth. It was such a juggernaut of appointment television that soundbites and clips of the most memorable moments are still instantly recognisable despite it being years since they aired. Nikki Grahame shrieking “Who IS she?!” in the diary room. Glyn Wise cooking an egg for the very first time. Alison Hammond breaking the table.
Compared to the meticulously produced shows we are used to today, Big Brother had the appearance of a more “hands off” approach, with contestants apparently left to create their own drama. It thrived because it celebrated relatability, with much of the magic coming not from evictions or tasks but from sparks flying over how much loo roll to order.
Based on the response to Monday’s announcement, this is exactly the kind of authenticity that viewers are craving. “No influencers!” came the cry on Twitter. Where early seasons of BB were cast from the thousands of VHS tape auditions sent to Endemol, today’s shows are populated by producers trawling social media to find people who have styled themselves deliberately to be found.