MARCUS BENTLEY VOICE-OVER:
Seven twenty-one pm.
Susie is in the study.
She appears to be busy writing a novel.
In fact, she has been given a Secret Task.
She is writing a post for Strictly…
Here it comes again – for possibly the final time. Tonight, seventy-nine crazy, egotistical and desperate wannabes will fight to win the (apparent) privilege of entering the Big Brother house. Among the would-be housemates are a neuroscientist, an ex Royal servant and a one-legged author. By midnight, the chosen few will be ensconced, their every flaunt, bitch and bicker recorded, edited and transmitted to the viewing public. Of whom (of which?) I’ll be one.
Big Brother is the Marmite of television. It’s fashionable for journalists to view it with contempt, to describe it as the lowest common denominator of entertainment whilst writing about it with great glee: it is, after all, the bread and Brother of their trade. Even the curmudgeonly John Humphrys writes a scathing article about the way reality television has lowered the tone of television, whilst omitting to mention that he’s taken part in just such a show himself - Art School - from which he did not emerge particularly well.
So what’s Big Brother got to do with writing, you may well ask? Apart from, in my case, being yet another excuse for procrastination?
It’s the psychology, see. A strange alchemy occurs when you place a Baker’s Dozen of people into the oven that is the Big Brother house for three months, and stir well. Tempers – and passions – are liable to heat up and rise. Alliances will form and break, enemies will be made, secrets will be extracted. And while this particular process is more likely to create lead than gold, the whole watching experience can be treasure indeed for the writer.
What an opportunity. To observe what happens. To try to predict what will happen next. Character, plot, dialogue, conflict – it’s all there on a plate. Indeed, it could be said that the BB producers have to manage the series just as a writer would a novel. The characters must be eccentric, intriguing or attractive. The opening scenes must be gripping. There must be plenty of rising tension, often resulting in out-and-out conflict, interspersed with a fair bit of comic release. A love interest - or preferably more than one - is necessary, and this too must follow an obstacle-strewn path towards either a passionate resolution or a terrifying burnout. Oh, and a baddie is always a Good Thing (who can forget Nasty Nick Bateman?) Like a Whodunnit, at least one character must bite the dust each week. And the end must be satisfying, as the winner emerges in a shower of fireworks and stumbles ecstatically into Davina’s waiting arms.
One of the greatest flaws of the Big Brother concept is its beginning. Too many characters are introduced too quickly. And they’re too busy creating and maintaining the facades of their ‘personalities’. Little do they realise that it’s these very facades which create an impenetrable barrier between themselves and the readers…er, viewing public. Things only begin to become fascinating as those facades disintegrate and fall away, revealing truer drives and motivations. These people must be seen to be fighting for their lives. To stay in the house, they must form alliances. To stay in the house, they must be individual. To stay in the house, they must be endearing. Yet it’s likely that they will, in time, forget the cameras and revert to acting out the patterns they experienced in their own families as children.
And the similarity to the challenges of novel-writing doesn't end here. There’s always the danger of the viewers losing interest half way through. A doughy middle is death to a tv series, as it is to a novel (or, indeed, a novelist). When the housemates are reduced to sitting around the pool with slices of pizza and talking about the weather, it’s time for the producers to wake them up and notch up the tension.
And of course, the last chapter must be gripping. Who can forget Nikki and Pete’s final reconciliation, or Nadia’s tearful exit? The very best series leave the viewers longing for more – preferably a sequel. Knowing that this is the last brings a missing-you-already nostalgia to the story that’s about to unfold.
MARCUS BENTLEY VOICE-OVER:
Susie is in the kitchen in front of the telly with a large bar of Green & Black.
Susie’s novel is alone in the study…
That’s why, in spite of all the invective, raised eyebrows and contempt, Big Brother, I’ll be Watching You tonight.