Has ITV's Big Brother reboot worked?

ITV is the third UK network to air the long-running reality format, but has it been worth the effort?

 Fern Britton, David Potts, Nikita Kuzmin, Louis Walsh and Colson Smith made it to the final of Celebrity Big Brother. (Shutterstock/ITV)
Fern Britton, David Potts, Nikita Kuzmin, Louis Walsh and Colson Smith made it to the final of Celebrity Big Brother. (Shutterstock/ITV)

If you thought Celebrity Big Brother has been lacking this year, you’re not the only one. And it's quite a surprise, considering that the civilian series did so well for ITV only a few months ago.

I mean, the ratings haven’t been too bad. The CBB series opener attracted 2.7 million on ITV1, before falling back to around 1.6 million. When you include catch-up on ITVX and on streaming, the first week goes up to three million, and nearly four million for the first episode. It turns out, many of us are either choosing to watch episodes in bulk, or we catch up over our lunch break the following day.

And it should be commended that Celebrity Big Brother (and its civilian counterpart) was even able to come back at all. Viewers have become ever more concerned about the welfare of contestants on reality shows in recent years, with the format now having to evolve a lot since the days of Big Brother's ‘fight night'.

Ofcom, the regulator, has introduced stringent set of guidelines for shows to follow to protect their mental wellbeing, with ITV’s Big Brother implementing language use training and behaviour expectations before anyone even sets foot in the house, and off-camera mental health support for any housemate, if they wish, from the moment they are in.

The cast of 2023's Big Brother. (ITV)
The cast of 2023's Big Brother. (ITV)

2023's civilian series on ITV2 was lauded for featuring the storytelling and nostalgia of old, while looking and feeling bigger, and more comfortable, for the housemates. It was tweaked and modernised, upbeat and inclusive and arguably not as confrontational as the Big Brother of old, yet it still had enough tension to keep the storylines moving forward and viewers back each night.

And yet, something isn't working now. Something has been lost in the transition from the civilian Big Brother to the celebrity version. It could be something to do with the format being tweaked to make way for Sharon Osbourne. Following reports of an eye-watering fee, Osbourne was given the title "lodger," was exempt from evictions and left the house only after a week.

The problem? She ended up being too good as a lodger. Her time in the house was Big Brother gold, providing a year's worth of gossip website material in only a few days. From being brutally honest about Simon Cowell and The X Factor (claiming that Cowell "cuts you off, cuts you off, cuts you off") to her frank view on Anna Wintour ("who loves her? I think she's the C-word.")

If Sharon was a proper housemate and was there for the whole duration, she likely would have walked this final and have become the winner. And that’s the problem. Once the format of Big Brother is tweaked in any big way, a show that has worked because it is all down to the public vote, the rest of it is knocked out of kilter.

The other thing that could not be working is are the live episodes. The live launches used to work when Big Brother was on Channel 4 and Channel 5, as we could handle watching 12 or so people turn up and walk into a house over a space of an hour. Now, thanks to us scrolling on our mobile phones, we now simply don't have the patience.

The civilian series on ITV2 got around this issue by pre-recording the opening episode. It sucked out the spontaneity, but kept the pacing tight. But for CBB, they went the other way, resulting in an opener with many, many awkward live pauses. A Gogglebox style stunt with Sharon and Louis backfired, which resulted in us seeing them watch the arriving celebrities in near silence, which was made worse by the fact that we knew who all of them were, because the list of celebrities had been leaked to the papers a few days prior.

Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne watched the other housemates arriving on Celebrity Big Brother 2024 in a separate room. (ITV Screengrab)
Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne watched the other housemates arriving on Celebrity Big Brother 2024 in a separate room. (ITV Screengrab)

The exit interviews, a hallmark of the Channel 4 and 5 years, have been shunted to the Late & Live shows. And while Big Brother has rightfully been tweaked to feel pacier in other ways with tighter editing, montages and music, the sheer number of challenges and themed days has arguably been at the expense of letting the storylines develop naturally for itself.

But perhaps the biggest issue for Celebrity Big Brother has been the lack of moments that people will talk about months or years after this series has ended. Big Brother has a life of its own compared to other reality shows, with quotes such as “I’m claustrophobic Darren” and “David’s dead” being referred to years after they have taken place (especially on my WhatsApp or on gay Twitter.)

And while this series has had funny moments, such as the awkward silence after Lauren Simon’s half-hearted apology after breaking the rules or the shock of Louis slating Jedward, there hasn’t been a standout moment that has got everyone talking.

And that’s the draw and the appeal Big Brother, but also the challenge for its producers in the first place. Once you start the show, there’s not much you can do but to see it pan out.

Celebrity Big Brother is streaming on ITVX. Big Brother will return in 2024.

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