Big Brother

Friday, July 6, 2001 by

Whilst Big Brother is running the risk of passing off with no real incident (certainly there has been nothing this year to match the “Nasty Nick” confrontation, nor the rampant shagging that seems to take place in most other country’s versions of the show), praise be for the E4 spin-off Big Brother’s Little Brother.

The first couple of weeks were shaky and tentative, matching the main programme’s opening 14 days. The turning point for BBLB, though (as it is colloquially referred to) was the eviction of Natalie Cassidy. Certainly, ever since the glorious day in which BBLB‘s producers proved themselves immeasurably better at evicting people than members of the public, sole presenter Dermot O’Leary has been left to pull the show up by its bootstraps. Now we have a little bit of appointment telly at 7pm five nights a week (Sunday through Thursday). BBLB is the very definition of easy watching, like stopping off on the way home from work with a colleague for a quick pint and a bitch about the losers in your office who spend all day standing round the water cooler.

Whilst generally never more than simply watchable, Penny and Stuart’s rather troubled BBLB reunion a couple of week’s back was a piece of live telly as fine as you are likely to see anywhere this summer. After an uneasy start, Penny confronted Stuart with her true feelings, asking him why he referred to her as “mad” during his eviction interview. The poor boy was left floundering. Dermot attempted to appropriate a happy ending, but Penny stubbornly refused to accept Stuart’s offer of reconciliation, offering instead a sniffy “I’m not a hypocrite, Dermot.” That the lad O’Leary handled this fractious TV moment with only the slightest discomfort is probably no surprise to his growing number of fans, but for me, was an indication that underneath the veneer of “couldn’t give a toss” chic that is de rigueur for presenters of his ilk at the moment, Dermot is the real deal when it comes to handling live telly. As the days have passed he has shown himself able to extract consistently better interviews from the post-evictees than his counterpart Davina (who apparently has Zoë Ball waiting in the wings should her waters decide to break), and even able to turn a blatant bit of TV padding like this Wednesday’s interview with Paddy the dog (via an animal psychic) into an entertaining bit of TV (principally by posing Brian’s question: “Is Paddy gay?”) McCall would have doubtless mugged her way through the whole thing.

In fact a comparison of Davina’s Friday night hurrah and the Sunday edition of BBLB highlights the major differences between the “Big Brother experience” across the two channels. Dermot’s programme is obviously designed for the more committed fan, whilst Davina seems to find the walk down the path and subsequent interview an irritating complication in her pursuit of wrapping the show up within its designated 30-minute slot. This is not to hoist too much criticism on McCall (although if she will keep referring to each evictee as “mate” all the time, as in “Mate. Mate! Come on mate, you’ll have time to speak to them later” … ) who in general has done a fine job and has come a long way from her first ever show in which – remember – she referred to Darren only as “the guy who’s afraid of chickens”. She usually asks the most pressing questions at the eviction interviews and covers off the bases adequately so that by the time the show has finished you feel as if at least some of the beans have left the can. Am I alone, though, in thinking that last week’s interview (in which the be-hatted one gave a superb, measured and confident performance) was misjudged? Presenting Bubble with the possibility that his missus had been doing the dirty on him seemed a nasty trick. Davina said that it was for his own good, but I couldn’t see how. Surely no one would have presented him with a copy of the offending headline before he left the studio that night? Supposedly it was at the insistence of his girlfriend, but she should have been dissuaded. Nasty perhaps, but a reminder too of why we all like to watch.

But still, it’s over to Dermot’s on a Sunday evening if you want to hear a more relaxed and more interesting view of the world from the latest evictee. His interviews seem to be designed to satiate the “true fans” and not just those whose daily fix of Big Brother consists of nothing more than the précised version that appears in the tabloids plus that half hour on a Friday. Certainly BBLB will be required to redress the balance after this week’s Davina interview. Amma’s eviction turned out to be the most insubstantial yet. No mention of her pivotal argument with Stuart (surely the most memorable moment in the entire series), nor an opportunity for her to respond to Paul’s claims that he would “rip her to pieces” in the outside world. For all her in-house feistiness, Amma was a docile interviewee under the thrall of an interviewer more concerned with providing her with positive energy than a chance to repudiate or set the record straight.

So in a week in which Josh and Brian’s spat proved to be the Channel 4 highlight, BBLB painted the picture of a far more entertaining house. Dermot was first with the inside line on the nominations as well as the various task related activities, and was willing to linger on the moments that were passed over by Channel 4. On Thursday’s show we were informed that the previous night’s two intruders were likely to be students, certainly at least one was Australian, and both, we were told, had sustained injuries as a result of their nefarious break in. BBLB also informed us that Big Brother had issued a formal apology to the housemates as well as providing them with beer in an effort to make amends. None of this was mentioned on Channel 4. This is not necessarily a criticism – just recognition of the two programme’s differing remits and how each influences your impression of events unfolding within the house. BBLB is obsessed with the mechanics of the show, whereas the Channel 4 programmes remains solely focussed on the housemates. For BBLB there is life outside the house. This was best typified by Thursday’s programme which brought to a conclusion one of this year’s teeny little sub plots by allowing Bubble to go again for the sweet corn eating record. This time he was able to completely “ding dong” the previous best. The scenes of jubilation were quite sweet in a corny kind of a way. For those of you who voted him out though and wish to see some more of Bubble’s bubbles, here was the key. Can I suggest you get yourselves a plate, a can of sweet corn and a representative from the Guinness Book of Records? I gather the latest edition hasn’t gone to print yet, and you could just get him sulking in his bedroom all over again.


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