Big Brother EPs on why its new family-friendly image is essential for success

Endemol Shine Australia's Amelia Fisk and Seven's Andrew Backwell chat with Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson about changing Big Brother's "negative perception" among viewers and advertisers.

The Seven Network has made a middling start to 2021 as multiple new formats brought mixed returns, but with plenty of familiar programs yet to return, executives will be hoping Big Brother can swing the dial back in Seven’s favour.

The second season of Seven’s iteration of Big Brother was announced as part of a stacked content slate which also includes Farmer Wants A Wife, The Voice, Australia’s Got Talent, and the return of Australian Idol later in the year.

Big Brother host Sonia Kruger / Image by Nigel Wright

Despite a COVID scare on set last year, Seven delivered the series without so much as a hitch, and Endemol Shine executive producer Amelia Fisk is expecting more of the same from a show she says has no rival when it comes to fly-on-the-wall entertainment.

“There is no other show that is like Big Brother. You know, at any given time, we’ve got 60 cameras filming 24/7, and there’s just no other show that captures that amount of coverage,” she tells Mumbrella, ahead of the show’s return this evening (Monday 26 April).

“You get real moments. It’s incredibly authentic. And when it comes to making an episode, we have the balance, humour, heart, and the game, and pick the best bits to tip the scales evenly. It delivers on telling stories in the most addictive way.”

One of the challenges for Seven and Endemol Shine producing this season and last has been to shake Big Brother’s reputation for scandal and revive the show in a way that makes it an appealing watch for a wider audience demographic.

In 2006, the infamous ‘turkey slap’ incident saw housemates Michael “Ashley” Cox and Michael “John” Bric escorted from the house, an incident that even saw then-Prime Minister John Howard call for the program to be taken off the air.

Also during its time on Network Ten, a companion program called Big Brother Uncut (later, Adults Only) ran once a week, showcasing adult content that was considered unsuitable for the regular daily program.

Seven’s director of production, Andrew Backwell, admits that Big Brother had a brand image that needed repairing.

“The perception was that it was a little bit tacky, it was young people sitting around the pool talking rubbish,” he says.

“If you looked at last year’s series, and the same this year, it’s completely not about that. It’s about strategy, it’s about gameplay and you engage with these characters. We had to overcome that brand perception, and that was successfully done last year.

“Big Brother was always a show that used to skew 16-39. What we saw last series was that broadened out, and this series is even broader.”

Fisk adds that “Big Brother is [now] a family fun entertainment viewing product and the new characters have delivered those fun moments in spades.”

Big Brother contestants / Image by Nigel Wright

Part of that process has been to cast a much wider range of characters, Fisk explains. “It’s not a house full of 20 somethings sitting by the pool.

“It was really important for us to deliver a really unique and diverse cast, people from all walks of life. We’ve got a 65-year-old and a 21-year-old. There’s someone for everyone at home to watch, everyone can relate to someone.”

The other benefit of turning Big Brother into a more family-friendly format is that it has helped to secure and keep commercial partners on board.

“The great thing for us is that we’ve got three premium partners already locked in for the show,” Backwell says. “KFC was there in year one and has been successfully integrated into the program. This new series is going to have even more seamless integration.

“Another partner is Aldi, and we’ve also got MyPayNow, so three premium partners already sponsoring the show.

“The thing that will attract partners is that Big Brother is broad and family-friendly, there’s nothing negative about the premise now, that perception that it was a little bit edgy or tacky is completely gone.”

Big Brother contestants / Image by Nigel Wright

Later this year after Big Brother has come and gone, Seven will be throwing a stack of celebrities into the house for Big Brother VIP.

There’s been no date set, but it’s only the second time a network in Australia has attempted the celebrity-laden version. Based on the performance of shows like Ten’s I’m A Celebrity, it could be a masterstroke in the back end of the year for Seven.

Fisk reveals that the initial steps in the casting process have been easy because there have already been multiple celebrities getting in touch with Seven, wanting to be involved.

“There’s a huge appeal out there. Celebrity Big Brother is going to get its hands on them and put them in his funhouse, and throw everything at them,” she says, also teasing that international celebrities have expressed interest.

“Celebrities, famous sportspeople, they all want to play. They just want to come into the house and play hard, it’s the real-life Hunger Games. They want to test themselves strategically and play a real-life board game.”

Backwell adds: “We’ve been contacted by lots and lots of celebrities wanting to be part of Big Brother, and I think that talks to the revitalised brand, celebrities want to be associated with it.”


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