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September 10, 2000

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Big Brother Has Become Big Joke

       Big Brother has not just become Big Boredom, it is now Big Joke. But mark my word: unless the remaining six inside that house have the kind of brass Regis Philbin did 32 years ago when he walked off The Joey Bishop Show, they aren't going to walk out of there en masse Wednesday night.

       Not that I wouldn't want to see it. Frankly, I would laugh hysterically. For that gang of six to leave three weeks early would be the equivalent of throwing a huge egg in the face of Les Moonves, who brought this trifling mess to network television.
       However, they are not going to leave as a group for one key reason (barring that mass injection of gall): CBS is not about to pay a penny of the prize money to anyone if they don't fulfill the entire time limit of the contract. I don't believe all six of them are going to tell Moonves "take your cash and shove it" under those circumstances.
       However, I have not seen so many desperation measures to prop up declining ratings since ABC forced Mark Goodson into revamping Password as Password All-Stars, one of the worst decisions in the history of daytime television.
       My good friend Ed Stash has provided me with some demographic data on Big Brother to indicate despite its now rather sharp decline, the 18-34s are still very attractive to CBS. My argument, however, is no matter the importance of the 18-34s, when you lose to a third rerun of Friends by 50 per cent in the ratings and you're a first-run show, the audience has tuned you out, except for the hardcores.
       I have a class of 35 students in Mass Media, ages 18-22. Not one of them saw last Wednesday's "buyout" episode. Their curiosity factor on the show is far less than it was with Survivor.
       Former housemate Jean Jordan, who was perceived as whiny and too confrontational by enough viewers to be voted out early but who had a far more telegenic personality than anyone left in the house told me, "I really wish I'd waited for Survivor II. What I'm seeing now is total desperation on the producers' part. I really should have seen it when I saw the casting for the show. It's very poor. They went overboard to have the 'right' people, to do PC casting. The two black people, one who works for the United Nations. The Asian. The blue-collar father. The mother of four. It's like they read a politically correct manual. That doesn't necessarily make good television and it didn't in this case."
       The mistakes are now of legend----but why, on earth, did CBS commit to six nights a week of this plodder and stick with it? Surely, 18-34 demos aside, Moonves has to see the audience slowly slipping away. Surely, he can see what the producers are doing are completely disrupting the concept of the game. Surely, he has to see offering a guy (Curtis Kin) a chance to go to the Emmys and see the outside world for the first time in two months skews an unbalance to the concept.
       I suppose not. What the BB brain trust is doing is the equivalent of putting Eddie Haskell in the house with the Cleavers to live. Or having the writers of My Three Sons to reveal Ernie, who was adopted by the Douglas family when the series moved to CBS, was a child Steve Douglas and his first wife had put up for adoption when they were married.
       When the AOL feed was shut off for a while Saturday at the point it appeared George Boswell had found out some of what was going on outside the house concerning viewer voting, that violates the concept of limited uncensorship promised. When the feed resumed, all six housemates made an informal, unsigned agreement to walk out of the house together Wednesday night two and a half weeks early.
       Folks, if CBS has to send Moonves out there to remind those people of their contractual obligations, it will happen. I'll almost guarantee, at least one of those six will lose his or her nerve to maintain this admittedly gutsy alliance to leave on live television. The idea of coughing up $500,000 will be too strong for at least one of them.
       However, this thing has been enough of a headache, you can almost take to the bank CBS won't do a second one. Nonetheless, I'd love to see these folks bolt the house. It would be one of the most dramatic doublecrosses in network television history.

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