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Interview with Allison Grodner
Thanks to Media Day reporter Matt Whitfield
'Big Brother' Babble with Executive Producer Allison Grodner
By Matt Whitfield | Wednesday, July 7, 2010, 6:45 PM
CBS's "Big Brother" returns this ThursdayTwenty-four hours after participating in "press day" at the "Big Brother" house, I had the unbelievable opportunity to chat with the reality show's executive producer, Allison Grodner. Needless to say, it was a total treat to talk to the woman responsible for delivering summer's most scrumptious primetime programming. After exchanging quick pleasantries, the interview (which includes insider info about this season, past seasons, and some of Allison's favorite moments) began. I hope all of you "Big Brother" fans out there enjoy it, and for those of you who've yet to become addicted to one of TV's top guilty pleasures, read on and don't forget to tune into the Season 12 premiere on Thursday at 8pm ET on CBS!
Most reality shows, even the majority of scripted primetime shows, don't survive past the pilot, let alone last for more than one season. What do you think the secret to "Big Brother's" success is?
Wow. I think a number of things have made "Big Brother" successful. One is... when it started. It's sort of the granddaddy of this kind of reality programming, and I think it has a cult following now. But the big thing is how CBS has scheduled it all these years. It's a summer event. We don't overplay it throughout the year. I think that's great for "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race," but for a show like this — that takes so much real estate on a network and such a commitment — it's really about coming back to summer camp every year. It's something to look forward to. School's out, and "Big Brother's" in. It's the primetime reality soap opera. But it's also a show that doesn't take itself too seriously. I think that's what makes it stand out from those other shows in primetime. We poke fun at ourselves. Sometimes the music's a little over the top. How can you not poke fun of yourself when you have people running around in banana suits or green unitards? It's campy fun, and I think that's what makes it a bit of a cult hit.
Do you think that's one of the reasons why, come Emmy time, "Big Brother" is continuously ignored?
Yeah. I think that people don't take us seriously. The idea that we even produce three shows a week... I think all of the sudden lessens the appeal somehow to the Emmy voters. But I also think it's because it's a bit tongue-in-cheek. It's campy fun, and it's ridiculous sometimes. And it's the soap opera, too, with all the fighting and crying. Honestly, what this closed-in atmosphere does over the summer, with this intense competition, is it sometimes brings out the worst in people. That's definitely one of the reasons why we're looked down on. We're the redheaded stepchild.
Despite the unnecessarily negative connotations associated with summer programming, do you believe that "Big Brother" was a trendsetter?
I do believe we were a trendsetter with regards to summer programming, especially event programming. I don't think there really was anything else out there. The show started in 2000; I started in 2001, and, at that time, it was all reruns. So, we became synonymous with summer, and I think that's what makes it event programming.
How has Showtime 2's "Big Brother: After Dark" changed the dynamic of the show for viewers?
I love "Big Brother: After Dark." I actually watch it myself. It's how I keep track of things when I go home. I think it really emphasizes what this is all about ... the purely voyeuristic nature of this show, that no other show has, and the live nature of this show, that no other show has. Certainly, that was apparent on the Internet, but "Big Brother: After Dark" made it accessible to so many more viewers, whose modems or Internet doesn't work that fast. [Laughs.] There's a multiplatform sort of appeal to "Big Brother" that other shows don't have. It's what makes it unique.
When you're involved with these people, you want to see everything. I think that we're seeing that more and more in general on television. When networks put their shows out there for sneak peeks on the Internet, ratings aren't ruined. These things actually help to increase ratings and awareness. It's something that I was afraid of at first — but truth is, it only helps the show.
Were you surprised to see a ratings increase last season? As a result, it got a very early pickup from CBS. That must have been incredibly encouraging.
Absolutely! The ratings increase was amazing, especially in this day and age. Are you kidding? Fabulous. We had a great season. Everyone loved Jeff and Jordan. The casting was great. There was a good ending. And we're hoping that that goodwill lends itself to the premiere this year and that we have all those people come back. We also had a lot of people become fans just last year. It's great, and we're really thrilled to have another big year.
Speaking of casting, how involved are you? A show like this must be one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, reality shows to cast.
Very involved. I'm involved from the beginning all the way through the bitter end. [Laughs.] It's all about the mix. You stir it up and throw it in the house and hope it makes for an explosive, wonderful summer. But, I'm very involved with the casting because, without that, we'd have nothing. It is all about the casting. And the truth is, it's all about the casting for any of these reality shows — but especially here because of the voyeuristic nature of the show, where there's no editing. Although I do contend that the voyeuristic nature of the show is what makes it interesting sometimes, because sometimes you'll just sit there watching someone eating a bowl of cereal, and you can't turn away. It's fascinating. It's something you never see. If you stand behind these windows and look in, it really is the human zoo. These people forget that they're being watched.
Let's talk specifically about this season.
The show will have its usual "expect the unexpected" and twists and turns. And I can give you this: I can say that this season will be one of the hardest games ever. And that's because we have to keep people on their toes. A lot of people are superfans. A lot of people scrutinize everything. And, yes, there are the old standards. Yes, slop will be back, which I know you had fun with [laughs] and the overall way that the game works. But there will be something, an element in this game, that will make it harder than ever before. And there may be some audience participation involved.
One of the reasons I love "Big Brother" is that it's about the houseguests. Yes, the audience can grant them a home gym, suggest someone be taken off slop, etc. But, do you feel pressure from the network to involve more of the audience at home, or is that up to your discretion?
Honestly, not at all. When we took over in Season 2 that was actually a big thing we took back. We took back control of the show and put it in the hands of the contestants and turned the game in on itself. It was no longer the popularity contest that that first show was. It just didn't work here. So, slowly as you've seen throughout the years, it's been a little more given back to the audience because we, of course, want to involve our viewers. We have fantastic viewers and fans on the Internet. We have such a wonderful ability with the live nature of the show and the Internet component to have the audience interact with us. And so we're always looking for ways to involve them, like we did a while back with America's Player. This year, the audience will be involved in affecting the game. I'm not saying America's Player, but something along those lines. If you're asking me if the audience will be evicting the houseguests, the answer is "No!"
When does the process of selecting a theme for the house begin?
It's an evolving process from the moment we get ideas like ... we should have done that this year and we put a pin in it and say, "Let's go back and revisit it." It's fun. It's something I really enjoy. Taking the space and doing something completely different. Last year it was very modern, minimalist. This year, we are colorful, fun, beach, Miami, pool, cabana — Copacabana! [laughs] — and it's a little whimsical. Every house has to have a little of that for me. It has to be super real, a little bit more than your average house.
By any chance, are you a "Golden Girls" fan? The first thing I thought when I walked into this season's house was, "Where's the lanai? Where's Rose?"
Are you kidding? I'd love it. Let's get Betty White in the house. Maybe we'll have her walk in because she's doing wonders for all those other shows. [Laughs.] I love "Golden Girls," but that's not the inspiration. It's summer fun, so the idea is... we've had California beach locations and that sorta thing, and we thought, "You know what? How 'bout South Beach?" The clubs and the neon and the bright colors — the palm trees and all that. It's still all about summer, but it's a different vibe.
Is there a particular season that stands out to you, or do you love all of your babies equally?
I love them all. They're all very different. For me — and I've probably repeated this many times — I loved the twist in Season 5, the twin twist. It was one of those moments that hit me. We have the only show that can do that, and it was so much fun to pull off... between that and the brother and sister who didn't know each other. Those two twists were amazing for me to see played out. But as far as seasons, Season 8 with Dick and his daughter... with one of those screenplay endings... wow! I have something I like about every season. Last year... I mean, who would have thought Jordan and Jeff? The heroes! The romance! But it was such an innocent romance that appealed to eveyone... because we've had some serious hookups on the show. We've had the stuff where you almost go, "OK, we've had enough already!" [Laughs.]
Jordan even told Jeff not to kiss her!
She was so chaste! Maybe there was a smooch under the covers, but it was about their innocence. They were made for each other. [Laughs.] That romantic thing came back into play here. We hadn't seen that in a long time on the show.
What about any particular houseguests? One that stands out to me is Dr. Will Kirby. He could possibly be the greatest villain in reality TV history. I think he is more of a villain than even "Survivor's" Richard Hatch.
I agree. But, he's also... dare I say, and yes, I'm biased, that he's more entertaining than Richard Hatch. [Laughs.] He's got the charisma, he's got the brains, and he played this game. He's the one who set the standard at the very beginning in Season 2. We could not have envisioned playing that game the way he did. It was amazing that he came in and did that... and almost did it again during the All-Star season.
Are there any challenges that you absolutely love?
We have so much fun with these challenges. We can go over the top. Was there anything funnier last season than Casey in the banana suit? It's just cheap fun. It was so much fun to see him sitting thereir with his cigarette and his cup of coffee in the morning in his banana suit. You'll obviously see us repeat some of our favorites but with different twists, like the Cutthroat Christmas we do, or what we did to win the banana suit. Those are fun. But last year... the zit popping. Could we have gotten any grosser? [Laughs.] We might have to do something like that again! Loved that. I also love our endurance competitions when the houseguests are swinging on the vines and smashing against the wall.
Will we see any former houseguests potentially hosting some games this summer?
We love our houseguests from the past, but this season, it's really about the new batch. That being said, especially from the prior season... the people that are just hot off the presses from the prior summer could very well come back to host a couple competitions.
I just want to get an idea of the magnitude of the production. How many people are constantly on the go?
It is. It absolutely is, and I appreciate [your] noticing that because I think that's something, when you talk about Emmy voters, that they overlook.
That's what I'm getting at. I think you deserve multiple Emmys!
[Laughs.] Emmy voters, come on over, and I'll give you a tour of this place! It takes over 200 people, actually somewhere up to about 250, to run this seven days a week, 24 hours a day for 3 three months. It's also the longest reality show in production, and we're in preproduction, production, and postproduction simultaneously. It's very much like a newscast, except that we're putting on three hours of primetime-quality programming, one live, every single week — and going live to Showtime — and going live to the Internet at the same time, so it takes a village. It's a huge team. I absolutely don't do this by myself. This is all about an amazing team of people that keeps coming back to summer camp. We have such a huge return rate to come back to summer camp every year to do this show. But it is unique in that way, and I do wish people would come and take a look at that, because it's a fast-moving train that cannot stop. Once we get started, once those houseguests are in this house, we go! And we are here, doing most of our cutting overnight. This house is alive and buzzing. So, thank you for noticing!
My favorite Elissaism so far....
Elissa on the mackrel it's grilled, it is salty & fishy but tastey,,,,I bet it is good for you except for the mercury
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