Big Brother Background
Television shows can be produced in-house by the network, made by a production company and sold to the network or bought by the network from a distributor. A combination of these can occur also. Keep this in mind while we look at how John de Mol came up with the concept of Big Brother in 1997.
In Holland, a network approached him to create a new kind of show. At the conclusion of a brainstorming session one of the creative team mentioned that he had recently read an article about the American Biosphere II project. After a few years working on the idea ‘The Golden Cage’ was born. John had thought of a show that provides a year long sabbatical and this concept would use that. Then it was decided that 100 days would suffice, mostly because of the cost, and the name would be changed to ‘Big Brother’. The concept was then franchised and John travelled the world to pitch the concept.
He found that what was one network’s trash was another’s treasure (ie: NBC and ABC lost out to CBS and in Oz, Seven and Nine lost out to Ten). Now back to the production side and in 1994 John’s company, John de Mol Productions merged with a rival Dutch production company called Joop van de Ende Productions (van de Ende has since left) and Endemol was born. Endemol is now a top European production house with hundreds of television formats and is worth an estimated $5 billion.
In each country that screens Big Brother, either a local production company or an Endemol subsidiary produces the show. In the case of BB U.S., CBS produces it in-house. In Oz you have Dreamworld hosting the site for the house and Ten working with Endemol Southern Star to produce the show. This required employment and training of several hundred specialist crew that you will not find anywhere else. In some countries, like South Africa, it required infrastructure upgrading for telecommunications.
Most countries across Europe and elsewhere have loved the show but in the United States it did not go as well as they had hoped. Perhaps Survivor is to blame for that! On April 24th, 2001 Australia had its turn though, right after the show’s flop in the States, leaving some questioning whether or not it would succeed here in Australia.
It well and truly succeeded for the first few years and several million viewers tuned in each day to see the contestants laugh, cry, love, argue and, each week, bet a proportion of their weekly food budget of $24.50 each ($3.50 each per day) on a task to keep them busy. What most viewers do not know, speaking of money, is that, apparently, Big Brother housemates in Australia earn $500 a week in a “second prize” and by comparison Aussie Temptation Islanders were paid the same for their 12-day stay while Survivors receive around $US400 a week.
And so the ongoing saga continues around the world. It is a huge money-spinner, with advertisers falling over themselves to run ads during commercial breaks and the telephone companies loving the additional revenue the voting lines create and the cell phone SMS messages, logos and ring tones bring in the bucks also (in countries where that technology is in use). It is more than just about money though, it is about the audience. It gives BB addicts something to look forward to each day and a collective voice that can be heard on the weekly eviction show and nothing will stop this “juggernaut” anytime soon!
Bibliography: Big Bother by Toni Johnson-Woods (2002), University of Qld Press.