Russell Brand, Jade Goody, Chantelle Houghton - Remotely interested: The fall (and fall and fall) of Big Brother

Mark Grainger 28/06/2010

Over the past five years or so, the prevailing sound that could be heard when opening a newspaper was a series of “thumping” noises, as critics and columnists across the land gradually decided that they had changed their minds, and staged a mad scramble to jump to the other side of the fence of the great Big Brother Debate. After the majority had landed safely on the side marked “against”, a high pitched whine began to develop, as each dedicated large sections of their weekly column inch allowance to finding ever more inventive ways to slag off television's great social experiment, the same one that most had fallen over themselves to praise for at least the first three years of its life.

All of which of course is perfectly understandable when a show performs as much of an Olympic Gold Medal standard dive into cheap publicity and freak-show entertainment ethics as Endemol's cash cow has. What has always surprised me though, is how much time was afforded to the show after the majority of its high profile defenders finally saw the iceberg coming. As the series plumbed new depths into bullying, racism, racist bullying, onscreen sex and a reliance on the activities of an ever growing list of insufferable toss-pots, the newspapers printed more and more stories to sell copies to the ever diminishing number of loyal BB fans and gossip junkies. In short the show became an easy target, but every time it received a critic's boot in the ribs it was just glad of the attention. This continued throughout all of the show's public trials and tribulations, most notably the infamous race row of 2007, leaving the inescapable feeling that if the media had just ignored the show from around series five, the chances are it would have exhausted itself, probably from jumping and waving its arms around in an attempt to attract attention, and died before it'd had a chance to let Jade Goody tie a noose around her career.

Fast forward to today though, and rapidly decreasing rating combined with Endemol's penchant for steadily upping the amount of T.V. hours and spotlight-hogging knuckle scrapers thrown at each season have meant that, as of the Autumn, the grand-daddy of reality shows will cease to be. Awh.

All in all, BB has a lot to answer for. Without Big Brother, similar shows such as Survivor (and consequently I'm A Celebrity...) would never have reached the popularity levels that they do, and we may have been spared the atrocity of Celebrity Love Island. More importantly, BB helped to launch the career of professional tit in tight trousers Russell Brand. More important still though is the effect it has had for civilians on T.V.

In the past, “normal” people would appear on game shows to win money and unwanted watercraft, or for the chance to prove themselves at a skill, such as singing on Stars In Their Eyes. A twisted version of this spirit remains in shows like The X-Factor, where the winner deserves what they get (interpret that as you will), but Big Brother's 'winners' reach their pedestal without accomplishing anything of worth. Often they're either the most mentally-stable participant of the series, or they've jumped through the most of the producer's hoops without landing on their faces. Since the show's ratings started increasing it has become a magnet for vacuous bibbles desperate for people to look at them, with each winner getting at least fifteen minutes of fame at the end of it as well as 100,000. This of course did nothing for the burgeoning, soul destroying philosophy of being famous for being famous, nor did making “norm” Chantelle Houghton a celebrity by getting her to pretend to be a celebrity on Celebrity Big Brother. Keeping up? Good.

Ironically though, if Endemol had took a stand for its serious social experiment roots and clamped down on this type of contestant early on instead of encouraging as many preening, vacuous fame-whores as it did, then the show probably would have ended long before now, but with a far better reputation than the one it will be consigned to history with.

In all honesty I've never been a huge fan of the show as an entity in itself, the original concept of an Orwellian study in human behaviour did not grab my attention (I'm forced to fraternise with strangers enough throughout the day without watching them scratch their arse on the telly at night too), and the attention seeker's playground that the show became was even less enticing, pushing my apathy further towards active hatred each year. Suffice it to say then that you could probably imagine I would be tying up the laces of my dancing shoes in anticipation of an enthusiastic fandango on BB's freshly dug grave, and to be honest you'd be right. The problem is though, as much as the show may not grace our screens anymore, its legacy will linger for some time.