Flesh spells success for 'il Big Brother'

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The Independent Online

Millions of Italians are this weekend on tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of a televised saga that has amused, outraged and scandalised public opinion over the past three months.

Millions of Italians are this weekend on tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of a televised saga that has amused, outraged and scandalised public opinion over the past three months.

The Big Brother small-screen format, already hugely successful in other European countries, was launched in Italy in mid-September as Grande Fratello, featuring five men and five women aged from 23 to 35.

It first met general ridicule and little interest but, aided by a continuous live internet link, soon achieved viewing figures topping 10 million. This was as high as Italy's early games in the Euro 2000 football tournament.

The leap from cult viewing to mainstream dominance came when a public row broke out over an apparent sex scene. When two occupants disappeared under a duvet cover behind a sofa, partly hidden from the 14 mini-cameras dotted around the house and garden, screens suddenly went blank and the internet link failed.

Canale 5, the station producing the show, claimed the five-minute break was due to a technical fault, but critics claimed Grande Fratello had stepped in as grande censore.

The camera-shy couple, Pietro Taricone, a 26-year-old muscle-bound gym victim from Caserta, and Cristina the morose 28-year-old from near Brescia in the far north, denied anything had taken place. But the tone was set. Much debate followed later over whether the bottle-blonde part-time lifeguard was late with her period.

Condemned as voyeuristic by church figures and ridiculed by politicians as cheap TV - a staggering claim given the tacky content of much prime-time viewing - the show exploited its notoriety to maximum effect.

Whereas the British version spun around the machinations of Nasty Nick, Grande Fratello has lacked any such Machiavellian contestants. Instead, in quintessentially Italian style, most of the "action" has turned on who is falling in love with whom and dissecting which resident is jealous of another.

Viewing figures continued to soar as Marina from Messina, in Sicily, dropped her boyfriend on air and endlessly flirted with one after another of the tenants. Evicted last month, she immediately appeared naked on a number of magazine covers.

Pietro undoubtedly became the pin-up star, despite twice voting to evict his former flame Cristina, who has spent most of the past three months crying fitfully. Ironically they find themselves left in the house, along with Salvo the pizza chef from Syracuse, until the very end on Thursday, when one of the three finalists will win 250 million lire, more than £80,000.

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