The final eviction? 

26 August 2009 tbs.pm/1091

Channel 4 to launch ‘creative overhaul’ as it axes Big Brother

Big Brother axed by Channel 4

Channel 4’s decision to axe Big Brother admittedly wasn’t that unexpected, but it still signifies the end of a somewhat ignominious era for a broadcaster that was formerly known for its risk-taking; it had become effectively chained to something that made money at the expense of public service credibility.

The rise and fall of Big Brother came at a time when multichannel television was steadily eroding the audience share of the five major terrestrial channels, but with digital switchover now a reality in some parts of the UK, this factor is now steadily becoming less important in the longer term.

Faltering ratings for the tenth series (often less than 2 million viewers) was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, and gave C4 the perfect excuse to pull the plug at this point, especially given Big Brother’s relatively high production costs and the relative lack of media coverage.

This year’s series was dealt a body blow by the death of pop star Michael Jackson, which gave news-starved tabloid press a field day at the expense of everything else; the timing of this major celebrity story couldn’t have been worse for Channel 4 because Big Brother has been in steady decline and now needed all the tabloid attention it could muster.

Perhaps the final ignominy for Big Brother was to be largely ignored by the Daily Star newspaper, and since Channel 4 and Endemol cannot dare socially engineer another major personality conflict that had previously almost killed Celebrity Big Brother, the only real option – apart from tinkering around the edges – was to wait and hope for a miracle.

The hardcore Big Brother fans who are still watching claim that this year’s series was one of the best, but in the final analysis this is irrelevant if the series fails to meet its audience targets. There’s also the damage to Channel 4’s reputation as well to consider, even if Big Brother only amounted to a relatively small amount of airtime.

To this end, Channel 4 now plans to effectively tear up the schedule (apart from perhaps still having Channel 4 News weekdays at 7pm); something radical will certainly need to be achieved if the channel is to restore any of its lost credibility, although there should still be plenty of scope for improvement even allowing for so-called commercial considerations.

It’s unlikely that Channel 4 will ever return to the “glory days” of the Jeremy Isaacs era purely on the basis that the broadcaster is now in charge of its own advertising, though perhaps it is banking on some alternative form of funding such as the long-mooted BBC Worldwide deal in order to reduce reliance on faltering ratings figures.

So who else could be foolish brave enough to pick up the poisoned chalice of Big Brother? Certainly not Sky1 because they still don’t have the mass audience pulling power, as well as their current strategy being to concentrate on upmarket drama; tired old formats (Gladiators anyone?) are now distinctly out of fashion.

Channel Five is currently strapped for cash and wouldn’t want to be dragged down with the risk of a failing format, and ITV wouldn’t want to run the risk either even if Big Brother was largely consigned to ITV2.

So Big Brother is dead then, at least for the next few years until someone somewhere decides that the concept of watching nonentities performing contrived tasks in a confined space might again be a risk worth taking.