Big Brother Was Ferocious In Its Heyday, Can It Work In A #BeKind World?

Love Island's success proved that appetites for ruthless reality TV are still strong, Big Brother has everything to lose by being kind – and that’s a worry.

Big Brother

by Georgia Aspinall |

The announcement that Big Brother is set to return on ITV2 during the Love Island finale felt like a sign of things to come drama, rivalry and major publicity stunts. Five years since its axing due to ratings slumps, the show has moved to a third network and premieres in 2023.

The move to ITV2 is intriguing, it’s undoubtedly the British-hub of reality TV gold: Love Island, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, The Only Way Is Essex – series that have survived long beyond their expected expiry dates. And they survive for a reason, producers seem to know exactly what will capture the public attention year after year.

In its early days, Big Brother did just that. Seasons one to five averaged five million viewers for Channel 4, facing a steady decline after season eight and falling off a cliff after it moved to Channel 5. Why? The public became tired of the same old stunts. Now, ITV2 are determined to return the show to its former glory – with a refreshed twist. Perhaps that's why 'Big Brother UK 2023 applications' is already a trending search term on Google - the public know any appearance means they're set for stardom.

‘This refreshed, contemporary new series of Big Brother will contain all the familiar format points that kept viewers engaged and entertained the first-time round, but with a brand-new look and some additional twists that speak to today's audience,’ Paul Mortimer, director of reality commissioning and acquisitions and controller of ITV2, ITVBe and CITV, said. ‘We're beyond excited to bring this iconic series to ITV2 and ITVX where it should especially engage with our younger viewers.’

Live evictions will return, with the public once again voting throughout the series and ultimately deciding the winner of the cash prize. But what about the rest of the show's – admittedly brutal – previous format? Will there be crowds for example, a modern-day public flogging where contestants descend that spiral staircase to a chorus of boos? Will there be alcohol freely available, often the primary instigator for emotional outbursts, arguments and romantic relationships? Will contestants be called for Diary Room confessionals, bitching about their new housemates only for them to all watch it back at a later date?

All of these elements of Big Brother were what kept eyes glued to their screen – the epitome of car crash TV - but they’re also what made it so absolutely exploitative. How can they possibly be kept with the new version, in a post-#BeKind world? Knowing how many Ofcom complaints Love Island gets every year for supposed producer manipulation, knowing how much ITV2 have strengthened their policies around duties of care for reality TV contestants, it seems doubtful they could maintain any of those previous elements without relinquishing said duty.

What we can only hope for then is perfect casting and intriguing challenges that aren’t emotionally scarring – but ultimately, Big Brother is a popularity contest, can a show based on that very principle ever be that kind?

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