A victim of its own success: why Big Brother had to be evicted

The reality show has been eclipsed by social networking – a craze it helped create, says Ian Burrell

Love it or hate it, and there are plenty in both camps, Big Brother has changed our world. The activities of the show's housemates were not only the stuff of countless tabloid headlines, they provoked solemn statements from Gordon Brown and brought effigy-burning rioters on to the streets of India.

This was the show that created our modern celebrity culture, where a star can be famous in spite of – or perhaps as a result of – having no apparent talent whatsoever. It aroused a seemingly insatiable public appetite for the minutiae of these people's lives, which then created an entire genre of cheap weekly magazines.

Big Brother spawned the whole television genre of modern observational documentary – introducing the term "reality TV" to common parlance – and, even if we could never bear to look upon presenter Davina McCall, we could not escape the ripple effect the show had across the schedules as rival broadcasters rushed to find something similarly successful. Many TV viewers were happy to watch the more upmarket formats that followed in its wake, such as ITV's I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here or the BBC's The Apprentice. At the other end of the spectrum were gems such as Celebrity Love Island, Trust Me: I'm a Holiday Rep and F*** off, I'm Ginger.

Now, after a decade of shaping our cultural landscape, Big Brother has finally been shown the door. Next year's series, which Channel 4 is contractually obliged to make, will be the broadcaster's 11th and last as it signalled its intention yesterday to begin "the most fundamental creative overhaul" in its 27-year history.

The reality series costs the broadcaster up to £70m a year and Channel 4, which recently announced a £100m cut in its programme budget, claimed yesterday that Big Brother's demise would free up £50m for new shows, including a follow-up to director Shane Meadows's cult film hit This is England, shown as four one-hour dramas featuringThomas Turgoose.

As he outlined this new era yesterday, Julian Bellamy, the head of Channel 4, paid tribute to the part played by Big Brother in the evolution of the channel. "Big Brother has been our most influential and popular programme over the last decade," he said. "Big Brother will leave a huge hole and filling it will involve the most fundamental creative overhaul in our history."

Big Brother was something of a gamble when it launched on Channel 4 in July 2000. Made by the independent production company Endemol, it had previously been a success in Holland. James Herring, who did the public relations for the first British series, remembers that it had an immediate effect on the way television was watched, as a dedicated following emerged for the round-the-clock stream which Channel 4 broadcast on its website. "People were staying up all night to watch this unedited stream and to chat away online amongst each other," he recalls. "Big Brother was the first show to bring that online engagement."

Tabloid press interest only blew up with the eviction of "Nasty" Nick Bateman, the first Big Brother housemate to catch the public imagination. With the show still being billed as a "social experiment", Bateman was whisked away to a secret hotel to avoid the paparazzi. But by next morning he had been tracked down to a small hotel off the A1.

"A helicopter flew over the hotel and landed in a field, seven photographers climbed out and ran into the hotel," says Herring. From then on, Big Brother began a symbiotic relationship with the tabloids that lasted the decade.

More than any other title, Heat magazine embraced the show, its rise in circulation mirroring Big Brother's success. "We realised that every time we put Big Brother on the cover it sold well," said Boyd Hilton, the magazine's TV and reviews editor. He was kept especially busy as Big Brother 3 gave the show an audience of 10 million (and series average of 5.8 million), generating major advertising revenues for Channel 4 and giving a platform to the lovably gormless Jade Goody.

But it was not the critics slating it that did for the show, so much as the growth of the online world that had done so much to promote it. The emergence of social networking sites enabled the public to star in their own everyday dramas and those of their friends. In the internet era, swearing and nudity no longer seemed so naughtily risqué.

The growth of the web also speeded up life to the point where fewer people felt they had the time to invest hours, nay months, in the commitment to following the slow-moving adventures of another group of housemates. "Your investment as a viewer in getting to know 10 new strangers seems to be more of a drain on your time," says Herring, of audiences that have slipped to little more than 2 million.

Heat magazine no longer obsesses over the show, recognising that the core Big Brother audience no longer wants to wait a week to read about their favourite show. But Hilton feels the story is not over just yet. He believes Big Brother has been a "force for good", with its diverse mix of winning contestants, and credits the show for influencing television comedy and drama by creating a demand for filming techniques and dialogue with a greater sense of realism. Channel 4 might want to avoid the critics and start a new creative era, he says, but other commercial broadcasters might not feel so sniffy towards a show which still makes money. "I think someone will take it on," he said.

Big Brother in numbers

94.4% The highest proportion of callers voting to evict a single housemate in the UK edition. Nicole Cammack's popularity plummeted after on-screen arguments with her boyfriend Rex Newmark in BB9.

14 The number of relationships that started in the house, two of which still survive. Two babies have been born to BB couples. Tom and Claire from BB1 had the first and BB3's Lee and Sophie had the second.

28 The number of Big Brother series to air across the world this year. In all, 43 different series have aired at least once, spanning 72 countries.

20m The number of calls made to the BB eviction line during the first series.

69% The percentage of the UK population who watched BB1. Around 38 million people tuned in at least once.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions