Hey, everybody. "Moriarty" here. It's been a little while since we've had a report from everyone's favorite Greek god. Turns out he's been wrestling with one of the greatest evils I've ever personally witnessed, the ratings phenomenon with all the production polish of public access porn, that epic ode to all that is mundane, BIG BROTHER. And this is one fight I'm not sure even HERCULES is strong enough for. Despite my overwhelming fear of the show, this is one of the funniest pieces Herc's ever written. Check it out.
“Big Brother” has taken over my life.
I wish I could say I haven’t been posting to Coax lately because I was off in the Caribbean for the holidays, soaking up the sun of which this site so readily deprives me.
I also know I should be pouring over the pile of unreviewed pilots gathering dust beside my VCR.
Instead, I’m staring at four simultaneous SureStream Internet feeds showing me four almost-live pictures of a chicken coop!
“BIG BROTHER” FAQ 1.0
THERE’S LIVE STREAMING VIDEO??
At bigbrother200.com, it’s really only ALMOST live. By a quirk of fate that sounds as improbable as Moriarty maintaining an army of deformed henchmen, I, Hercules The Strong, live about a four-minute walk from where “Big Brother” is taped (you can even make out my rooftop satellite dish from some of the published aerial photos of the “Big Brother” compound!). There’s a lot of noisy air traffic over our Studio City neighborhood, and I noticed early on that the planes seemed to fly over my place about three minutes before they flew over the “Big Brother” backyard.
A THREE-MINUTE DELAY? WHAT’S THAT ABOUT?
The constant threat of catastrophic violence? Fear of an outbreak of “Survivor”-like nudity? They certainly don’t use the delay to delete salty language; the “Big Brother” cast is relentlessly potty-mouthed (particularly one-legged Eddie, who has taken to punctuating his long, brooding silences with phrases like “motherfucking faggot”), and I’ve not heard dialogue deleted yet.
SO HOW’S THAT STREAMING VIDEO?
So good that “Big Brother” could effectively put JenniCam out of business. It offers everything a lot of us once hoped the JenniSite would serve up: non-stop streaming video, live sound, and a lot of interesting stuff going on. (We may never be willing to tolerate silent photos of Jennifer’s office chair again.)
WHAT’S BAD ABOUT THE STREAMING VIDEO?
The resolution on my two-inch RealPlayer screen is so typically horrible there are times I can’t tell the two-legged black guy from the one-legged white guy. Using my 56K dialup, the picture refreshes only about once a second. Also, when a cast member does a solo stint in the Red Room (this series’ version of “The Real World’s” confessional), the audio goes away. The MOST disappointing thing, however, is that we at home are not allowed full access to the house’s 28 camera feeds. Only four camera angles are available at any given time, and those four are chosen for us.
CAN WE VIEW MORE THAN ONE CAMERA ANGLE AT ONCE?
Absolutely, if you know where to go. The official “Big Brother” site has an “ALL” button which theoretically combines four different shots (“Time Code” style) into one frame, but it never works -- at least not for me. I have much better luck, ironically, by utilizing bigbrotherblows.com, which offers all four camera angles individually AND the four-in-one “quad cam” – as well as the “control room cam” (a fairly worthless feed, thanks to poor lighting, that sort of lets you watch the watchmen), and the “kippen kam,” which wackily offers round-the-clock streaming video of the house’s backyard chicken coop. Time Saving Tip: you can click any of the scenes in the quad screen to isolate that scene and have it fill the entire frame.
HOW LAME WAS THAT PREMIERE?
Very very. (There may be a reason we haven’t seen perky CBS news-hen Julie Chen -- or half-wit field correspondent Ian O’Malley -- since. Though that Wednesday edition was by far the show’s highest-rated, it was also its most atypical: more like an hourlong promo than an actual episode. But even on infomercial terms, the premiere was pretty flaccid. When CBS does its next “Big Brother” (and it will), the producers should have a gander at MTV’s “Real World”/”Road Rules” show-launching casting specials, which are easily as entertaining as the best episodes of the actual shows.
HOW’RE THE RATINGS?
Pretty damn good: like “Survivor,” “Big Brother” is a magnet for young, ad-friendly audiences, and even beat Thursday’s potent “Friends” rerun in viewers aged 18-49. The noxious “Big Brother” premiere was the week’s third-biggest show, nearly equaling first-place “Survivor’s” biggest-ever audience. Those premiere ratings carried all the way to late night, giving David Letterman a rare huge victory over the Tonight Show. “Brother’s” viewership declined until Monday, but its ratings are starting to grow again. (This apparently follows the pattern set by its European counterparts; the American audience is now expected to continue growing all summer as the on-screen herd thins itself.) Look for a big jump in ratings Thursday, when the cast nominates its first pair of candidates for ejection!
THE SHOW DOESN’T SEEM PARTICULARLY CRUEL, DOES IT?
It looks very restful, much more like camp than prison. The cast stays up all night playing board games and telling stories. The show provides exercise equipment, puzzles and other challenges to keep them occupied during the day. And the environment the show creates actually turns out to be anything but boring: deprived of television, computers, CD players, radios, newspapers, magazines and most other distractions of modern life, the cast of “Big Brother” indulges orgies of introspection, and most of these are compelling as heck.
ISN’T JAMIE A LITTLE CHUNKY TO BE A REIGNING MISS WASHINGTON USA?
Ah. For the record, Jamie is the second heaviest among the female cast, after Cassandra. Apparently, if you’re 5’6” and weigh in the neighborhood of 154 you can win beauty contests in the Northwest. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone in the house is rude enough to ask her if she won in this condition, or if she’s chubbed up since.
IF WE’RE JUST WATCHING THE TV SHOW, WE’RE MISSING A LOT, HUH?
It’s amazing how much. For example, you almost never see the “Real World” kids discuss the show they’re on, but the “Big Brother” Internet feeds depict the cast talking about their show incessantly. They talk about which of their antics might make the air that night, the budget of the show, the cost of commercial time, what their ratings might be, and even if they’ll get to go on Letterman when they get kicked out. Several of the cast feared they would lose their spots in the cast if anyone learned of their participation ahead of time. The cast speaks of chaperones and show-hired private investigators frightening neighbors with loads of suspicion-generating inquiries.
CREEPY! WHAT ELSE?
All kinds of weird stories. Cassandra has insomnia because, when she was living in an isolated house in Central Africa, a band of 19 violent criminals showed up at 3 a.m., spent 40 minutes tearing down the metal bars over her doors and windows, beat bloody two of her three guards, slapped her around, and stole her every material possession. Curtis’ senior prom date is now married to a 50-year-old. Jordan and her sisters were plagued with life-threatening illness throughout most of their childhoods. Jordan also just revealed that “Jordan” is actually her last name. Josh, whose grandparents’ house burned down mysteriously days after those grandparents died in a freak car wreck, soon after also lost his mother, who died of “unknown causes” at the age of 40. And there was also an odd, extended conversation in which Jordan admitted she was open to pursuing a lesbian relationship – and kept asking Brittany her views on the same subject. Was Jordan trying to determine if magenta-haired Brittany is gay – or does Jordan just crave Brittany?
We also hear disembodied voices occasionally. Usually, they’re asking the cast to convene in the Red Room to change their microphone batteries. (The show’s crew is seldom heard, but NEVER seen. The Red Room serves as a kind of neutral zone; cast and crew members can access it, but never, apparently, at the same time.) One cast member admits she fears one day being summoned into the Red Room alone: “Which rule did I break?” Sometimes the cast talks about the crew as if they were supernatural entities; conversation stops suddenly if they hear their chroniclers talking or bumping around inside the walls.
BIGGEST REGRET ABOUT YOUR ENSLAVEMENT TO “BIG BROTHER?”
That I haven’t yet figured out how to tape the Internet stuff. I am constantly fighting late-night fatigue trying to follow the cast’s post-midnight conversations. Also, it’s frustrating when the cast breaks off into little groups. While I’m listening raptly to Jason, Brittany and Jordan in the living room, I’m constantly aware that Karen, Cassandra and Eddie are on camera two, revealing a whole different set of secrets in the back bedroom. Maddening.
HOW’S IT GOING TO END?
This question, so central to “The Truman Show,” defines precisely the allure of this brand of “reality” television. On shows like “The Real World,” “Road Rules,” “Survivor,” “Blind Date,” “Making the Band,” et al, we see a chaotic universe in play: good often goes unrewarded, evil routinely triumphs, and there is a complexity and texture afoot that producers of dramatic television fear would overwhelm THEIR audiences. You can certainly argue that these so-called “reality” shows are not “real,” but it’s much harder to categorize them as predictable.
Oh! Oh! Jamie is trying to convince Brittany to jump into the pool naked!!
I’ll be back later to remind you not to defy me!