`Big Brother' bores people to jeers

Television: Ratings plunge and critical Web sites crop up as viewers tune in, turn off show.

July 14, 2000|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

When CBS launched its second reality TV show "Big Brother" last week, die-hard MTV fan Pear Musikabhumma tuned in to see if it would hook her like her all-time favorite show, "Real World."

For seven years, Musikabhumma has religiously watched "Real World," which logs the adventures of seven young strangers thrown together in a luxurious house. But from the moment she saw the plainly furnished, 1,800-square-foot "Big Brother" house, the 23-year-old Baltimore lab researcher knew she was wasting her time.

The house didn't have a jacuzzi? No funky-looking pool table? Not even an indoor rock-climbing wall? What's up with that?

"With `Real World,' it's kind of cool to picture myself there," Musikabhumma says. "Like, if I were there, it'd be cool to do that. ... But [in "Big Brother"] they're just staying in this shabby place and it's not like they get to go anywhere cool or anything."

And so Musikabhumma joined the millions of Americans who tuned in to "Big Brother" last Wednesday - and then tuned out. Barely a week after its launch, the "Big Brother" backlash has begun, even inspiring a Web site (the name of which is a little too off-color to print here) that provides a forum for "Brother"-bashers to express themselves. Among the criticisms of the show are that it's too real (read: BORING!), too slow (read: ultra-snoozefest) and too frequent (read: Gosh, does it really have to be on five days a week?!).

While CBS' first endeavor at reality TV this summer, "Survivor," has been doing phenomenally well - drawing an estimated average of 22 million viewers every week - "Big Brother" has been the loser step-sibling in the ratings game. "Big Brother" started off its scheduled three-month run with more than 22 million viewers last week, but by Tuesday, the number had plummeted to 10.5 million.

The premise of the new show is to squeeze 10 ordinary people in their 20s, 30s and 40s into a small, house-like set - located on a studio lot in Southern California - for three months while 28 cameras and 60 microphones record their every move. Not only does the show air five days a week, but viewers also can log on to the "Big Brother" Web site (www.bigbrother2000.com) 24 hours a day to check out video feeds from the house.

Every Thursday, "Big Brother" participants will nominate two of their housemates to be cast out. Viewers then get to cast votes online or by telephone to decide who will get the boot. The last person in the house after three months will win $500,000. The network's publicists said they were counting on last night's show - the first to have a vote - to reel viewers back in.

"By no means is this a failure," said CBS publicist Beth Feldman. "We are doing better in the 18-to-34 demographic than CBS has done in years."

But some people in that demographic say they don't like "Big Brother" because its premise has been carried out more successfully for years on MTV's "Real World."

"When I first heard about the show, I thought, `Like, duh!'" sniffed Nora Malaisrie, 22, an Ellicott City lab researcher. "MTV's been doing this for years. ... It's not that much of a novel idea."

Nancy Deuel, 43, a freelance writer in St. Michaels, said the participants on "Big Brother" seem much more bland than those on "Real World."

"It's going to get boring real fast," said Deuel, an avid "Real World" fan for several years. "There's only so much you can do in one house with 10 people."

The message board postings on the Web site that slam the show criticize the overwhelming banality of watching participants sleep, shower in their swimsuits or sit around and chat about the inane.

"I just can't see this program lasting on a daily basis through September," reads one posting. "CBS is going to have to do something to help this show. If I wanted to watch people lounge around a pool, eat dinner and brush their teeth, I could look out my window."

Diane Ekeblad, a CBS "Big Brother" publicist, said she gets a chuckle out of such Web sites.

"They're hysterical," Ekeblad said. "If nobody cared about the show they wouldn't be spending all this creative energy doing this Web site."

She has a point. A closer look at the thousands of messages that have been posted on the anti-"Big Brother" Web site in the past week reveal their authors as intrigued viewers. For example: "Eddie is actually sitting with the rest of the house guests! He's talking to them as well, this is incredible!"

(On a linked Web site - which we also can't name but rhymes with survivorducks.com - some supposed "Survivor"-haters go even further. They do an elaborate analysis of blurry facial features in a photo of the participants to try to determine who gets kicked off the show.)

And apparently, some who find "Big Brother" boring don't have much going on in their own lives, either.

"The only reason I even make [an] effort to watch is so that I can keep up with these boards," reads one recent posting on the message board. "Isn't that sad?"

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