Monday, July 03, 2000

Will we be watching 'Big Brother'?

CBS hopes newest reality series will be another 'Survivor'

By Susan King
Los Angeles Times

        Not far from the site where CBS filmed Gilligan's Island more than 30 years ago, builders and technicians are putting the finishing touches on an 1,800-square-foot compound that will be home to 10 strangers on Big Brother, the new CBS reality series beginning Wednesday.

        For three months, every single move of the participants will be captured by 28 cameras and 60 microphones, reems of film that will be pared down to fit into five episodes a week. And Big Brother groupies also can watch the subjects 24 hours a day on the Internet on AOL.

  • What: Big Brother
  • When: 9 p.m. Wednesday and continues at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, through Sept. 30.
  • Where: Channels 12, 7
        Viewers will vote to expel one cast member every other week. On the next to final episode, viewers will choose a winner from the three remaining housemates. And on Sept. 30, the winner will receive $500,000 for successfully living in a fishbowl.

        CBS hopes Big Brother will catch on with audiences in a big way — just as its other reality-drama Survivor has.

        “This is a very big programming commitment,” says CBS Entertainment President Nancy Tellem. “This is compelling drama. I think the appetite will be such that you'll want to see on a day-to-day basis what is going on in the house.”

Spartan environment
        The living quarters are fashioned in a parking lot on the CBS/Radford lot in Studio City. The five men and five women will be almost completely cut off from the outside world. There will be no phones, newspapers, computers, television, pagers or radios. No personal watches are allowed, though, there will be one clock in the house. Hot water is only available from 7-9 a.m, so sleepyheads will have to rise early for a hot shower.

        A small yard features a vegetable garden, a tiny wading pool and a coop housing chickens to supply fresh eggs. Basic exercise equipment — jump ropes, medicine balls — will be provided.

        But there is no privacy. The bathroom area is exposed, though there's a door on the toilet. The two bedrooms are tiny and Spartan. Each has three single and one bunk bed. All the walls and the back yard are surrounded by two-way mirrors so the camera crews can follow the cast.

        A version of Big Brother was a phenomenon in Holland, Germany and Spain. In fact, it aired four times a day in Spain. The American version will follow the same format.

        “The idea is that the group in the house will build their own society,” says Dutch-born co-creator and executive producer Paul Romer.

Participants grilled
        Three weeks before premiere date, Mr. Romer and executive producer Douglas Ross are busy picking the 20 finalists — 10 for the house and 10 alternates. “The whole casting process started with 1,100 (audition) tapes,” says Mr. Romer.

        That cast of thousands was first winnowed down to 64, who were flown to Los Angeles. “We do psychological evaluations, medical tests and more interviews,” Mr. Romer says.

        The cast will be given a group challenge each week designed to get them to work together as a group. “We have come up with a whole list of challenges,” says Mr. Ross. “They will be based on what we think they need — (as in) more togetherness, more competition.”

One hour on Saturday
        On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, CBS will air a 30-minute installment — an edited look at the past 24 hours. Saturday's hourlong episode is divided into a 30-minute recap of the week, plus Friday's highlights.

        Big Brother goes live on Thursdays for an hour where the two nominees the housemates have decided to expel will be revealed. Each person will inform “Big Brother” of his or her choice in the “Red Room” — a soundproof room in the house they must visit every day not only to give their nominee, but to confess their own feelings and emotions.

        As the show closes, the housemates will be informed of the decision through an intercom system, calling out the two who are in line to be kicked out. That choice falls to viewers, who have the next week to cast a vote by phone.

        The next Thursday, when the show is live again, that choice is announced and the exiting cast member will be taken to a nearby sound stage, where they will get to see, along with the viewers, their own highlight reel. Friends, relatives and a studio audience also will be watching.


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