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‘Big Brother’ Turns 20 - Broadcasting & Cable
CBS’ ‘cornerstone’ reality show tweaks its formula to keep things fresh

WHY THIS MATTERS: The broadcast networks rely on unscripted franchises to bolster their schedules, especially this time of year.

It’s a milestone season for CBS summer staple Big Brother, which enters its 20th season on June 27. Sixteen houseguests aim to outlast each other and win the $500,000, their every move caught by 94 HD cameras in the house. Starting with a two-night premiere, the season will look back at the greatest hits from the previous 19 seasons, with a few loved (or perhaps loathed) legacy contestants returning for cameo appearances.

“There will be some acknowledgement to the past for sure,” Allison Grodner, executive producer, said. “They’ll be almost like Easter eggs.”

Fly on the Wall Entertainment — needless to say a fittingly titled company — produces Big Brother, along with Endemol Shine North America. Grodner has been there since season two, and fellow executive producer Rich Meehan since season three.

The pair promises to shake things up in the new season. The house is “incredibly interactive,” Grodner said, with a climbing wall in the living room and a pin sculpture hanging in the lounge, where guests can put their hand on the sculpture and have their fingers pop out the other side. “There are elements like that throughout the house,” Grodner said. “It’s just very playful.”

CBS is using over-the-top sibling CBS All Access to promote the new season. Fans of Big Brother who subscribe to the digital platform could watch live interviews with the houseguests starting June 18.

Big Brother will also feature an after-show, with Marissa Winokur and Ross Matthews, the winner and runner-up, respectively, in the inaugural season of Celebrity Big Brother that concluded in February, hosting the program on Facebook Watch. “They’re incredibly witty and incredibly talented,” Meehan said.

Big Brother has had after-shows before, but not with celebrity hosts and not on Facebook. (It previously aired on CBS All Access.) The producers say having a couple of former contestants hosting the program gives them insights into what the houseguests are thinking.

Like America’s Got Talent on NBC and The Bachelorette franchise on ABC, Big Brother is CBS’s unscripted summer “cornerstone,” according to media consultant Bill Carroll. “It has become a summer institution for CBS,” said Carroll, who noted that it brings a younger audience to CBS than the network is accustomed to.

Last summer, Big Brother averaged 7.7 million total viewers and rated a 2.5 among adults 18-49. “It has traditionally been a solid show for CBS, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue to be,” Carroll said.

Big Brother eats up a healthy chunk of the summer schedule for CBS, airing Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the Thursday program a live eviction show. Julie Chen continues to host. Big Brother gets another bump on Pop, a joint venture between CBS Corp. and Lionsgate. Big Brother After Dark airs nightly, starting June 28 at midnight.

Hard-core fans can also watch the Big Brother live feeds 24/7 on CBS All Access, which costs $5.99 monthly, or $9.99 commercial free. “Watch the houseguests from every angle,” reads the marketing on All Access. “Chat with other fans + more.”

Houseguests in the 20th season include Steve Arienta, a 40-year-old former undercover police officer from New Jersey; Kaycee Clark, who plays in a women’s professional football league; Kaitlyn Herman, a life coach from Long Island; and JC Monduix, a professional dancer. “There’s a lot of interesting professionals in this cast,” said Grodner.

Meehan thinks Arienta, the oldest cast member, has a good chance at the half-million jackpot. “He could be an interesting strategist in the house,” he said.

Grodner mentions a female welder named Sam as looking strong. “There’s something about her,” Grodner said. “I think she’s going to win over the audience, and I think she’s going to win over her fellow houseguests.”

Big Brother thrives, Meehan said, due to its mix of drama and humor. Grodner notes the show’s ability to poke fun at itself, which she said its rivals do not do.

Carroll thinks Big Brother might stick around for a while. “Assuming broadcast stays the way it is now,” he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they make it to 30 seasons.”

The series changes its formula just enough every season to keep things fresh for viewers, the producers said. Grodner referred to Big Brother as a “summer destination” for those who tune in: “We’re like going back to summer camp.”

WHY THIS MATTERS: The broadcast networks rely on unscripted franchises to bolster their schedules, especially this time of year.

It’s a milestone season for CBS summer staple Big Brother, which enters its 20th season on June 27. Sixteen houseguests aim to outlast each other and win the $500,000, their every move caught by 94 HD cameras in the house. Starting with a two-night premiere, the season will look back at the greatest hits from the previous 19 seasons, with a few loved (or perhaps loathed) legacy contestants returning for cameo appearances.

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