Big Brother Final and (a tenuous link to) Comics
The UK series of Big Brother ended last week. Producers brought to a close a series that spanned 10 years and which set the tone for reality television formats throughout the noughties.
Big Brother was a show created for its time: the heightened use of the web, sophistication of phones and emergence of interactive television in 2000, which is when the show started in the UK, foreshadowed an audience that would become hungry for 24 by 7 updates, as well as controversy.
All this played into the hands of the Big Brother format; chuck a handful of personalities into a house and film and broadcast the whole thing (almost) live.
The anthropological qualities of watching a human zoo made the show compelling in its early days. It had never be done before on UK TV.
But by the time viewing figures had dropped substantially, producers realised the show had started delivering diminishing returns in drama.
Paradoxically, the very contestants recruited for their explosive or quirky behaviours became stale imitators of contestants from earlier seasons, albeit with the volume turned up.
What made the show compelling in earlier seasons was seemingly ordinary people getting involved in bizarre yet emotionally identifiable situations.
In later seasons, it was bizarre people clamouring for fame and whatever media deals they could cook up by acting as outrageously as possible in the house.
And ultimately, a TV show on terrestrial television could never be as outrageous as half of the stuff you can find on the web nowadays.
The decision to end the show was sensible. Licensing opportunities could have kept the show’s producers in Christmas turkey for the next few years, but the danger was being reliant on a brand that had a limited lifespan and growing irrelevance in the cultural conversation.
The decision to close it will force producers to think of something new and just as contemporary.
What’s all this got to do with comics, though?
From looking on shelves today, there hasn’t been a forceful wave of watermark books that have raised the bar sufficiently to affect mass change in the way Big Brother has in television.
Equally, there has been little in the way of closing older lines of books to make way for new and more contemporary work – if anything, the current situation in the comic book industry is the reverse.
The comic book medium can be infinitely faster than television at reacting to the news agenda and chronicling social trends, but ironically its television that’s been more forward-looking in the past decade.
Big Brother, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Dr Who, Sherlock Holmes, The Street, The Office, The Thick of It – all these shows have raised the bar in what viewers can and should expect.
While the current honeymoon between film producers and comic companies will undoubtedly continue to stir interest in comics over the next three to five years, after that, screen producers will be looking for the next property that speaks to movie goers in a compelling and new way.
If all the comic book industry has to offer them is Iron Man 33, to an audience, who, at that point, may have had enough of super hero chic, the divorce is going to be messy.
If movie and TV licensing deals are what the majors are pinning their hopes on, then it would seem that now is an opportune time to start new and exciting lines, away from the super hero genre, that will preserve the comic book medium over the next 10 years.