Julie Chen has been hosting CBS’ Big Brother for 10 years and 11 seasons, and isn’t sure about the show’s future or her own. “I have that question for myself all the time, and for my husband [CBS president Les Moonves]. I’m like, ‘So how many more years do you think this is going to go on?’ Right now, the answer is, I would love to stick with it if they had another 10 years,” Julie told me. When I suggested she’s become tied to the show like other hosts, she said, “I hope so. No one can get that wooden delivery like me.”
That sense of humor would have surprised most fans of the show 10 years ago, and even four years ago, when TVgasm released its video of Julie saying “but first” over and over again, uncrossing her legs in the exact same way each time she said it and stood up. That was created by B-Side Blog‘s Ben Mandelker, and when I mentioned him to Julie when I talked to her at CBS’ party at the Television Critics Association’s meeting earlier in August, she laughed and said, “Oh my god, I have to meet him one day. It made me laugh so hard.”
She explained that either her agent or her best friend first introduced her to the video. “No one wanted to tell me, because one day my best friend told me, ‘You know they call you the Chenbot.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ then I called my agent, and I was like, ‘Did you know that,’ and he was like, ‘Chenbot Chenbot Chenbot.’ And you could tell the way he was making a joke, he was avoiding telling me about it.” One of them sent her the link, and Julie said, “You know, before you open it, you’re a little bit afraid, and then I burst out laughing in my office. I am the Chenbot! I’m like, Who could blame them? They’re so right, all their criticism. They’re right. If I wasn’t me, I’d say the same thing, and I am me, and I’m saying the same thing.”
That criticism of her hosting has, Julie told me, “turned into more of a loving criticism. I think in the beginning it was an attack. It’s been so long, it is funny, and it’s just evolved into what it is now; it’s more loving.”
It’s also affected her hosting, which has definitely improved over the past few years, since the video almost caused her to break out into laughter during the live shows. “It’s always at least in the back of my mind. In the beginning when it was fresher, I would have to keep a straight face, because I would think of the video and I would want to laugh. Now, it’s just a little bit more natural. There have been weeks when I want to lay it on thick just to see if anybody’s still noticing or watching, to see if it gets a reaction. And I’ll say those two words when I do the news in the morning also, but it’s not the same delivery. I don’t give it the same Chenbot delivery; that is just reserved for Big Brother,” Julie told me.
Speaking of The Early Show, I brought up her outstanding post-eviction interview with Braden Bacha, and expressed my disappointment that The Early Show aired a sanitized version of it that excluded any references to his behavior. “I thought so, too,” Julie said, “but I thought they didn’t want to get–A, it’s a time restraint, B, I think they thought, well, if we get into all that stuff, it’s going to take so much time to set it up. What you want to do on The Early Show is a hit and run, like a flavor of. I think they want it to feel like a version of what you see on the live show … very cut and dry.” She added that “it’s too inside baseball for people who are watching The Early Show and maybe not Big Brother fans.”
Ultimately, she said, “I was a little disappointed, too.” When I pointed out that it let Braden off the hook, Julie said, “I thought the same thing, but then I thought to myself, ‘Okay, Julie, you might feel this way because you were the subject of one of his attacks. So I thought maybe I’m looking at it from too much of a personal standpoint and I should step out of my body and think, Does the viewer really care?”
Braden’s comment that Julie was a “ho” that Chima referenced in her epic pre-vote speech wasn’t something that either Julie or the producers were aware of. Julie said, “No, I didn’t even afterwards. My producer was, like, we’ll look through all the tapes. We don’t know if this is even true. and then they found at that it was late one night: ‘Julie Chen’s a ho.’ I’m used to the houseguests always saying something about me,” she said.
After talking with Braden, Julie said, “I just wrote it off as, I got to know Braden a little bit in that 10 minute interview you saw, and I thought, okay, I’m not going to make this about me, but I do want to know, what would make him say that? So that’s why I asked him those questions. I did leave the interview thinking, ‘He’s young.’ I don’t know what’s beneath the surface there–I think I know, but it made me feel sadness for him.”
Julie said that ultimately, Big Brother is “kind of like that movie Crash–not everyone’s all good, not everyone’s all bad; that’s what makes them human; they’re flawed. If these people in the house can come to face that. That’s why I liked evil Dick [Donato]; he would break down and cry; he knew he was flawed, and he wasn’t trying to make excuses for himself.”
This cast, however, might not have those sorts of revelations. Julie said, “I wonder if some of them are a little too young to get to that point, or they haven’t gotten to that point.” I added, “or too dumb.” She laughed and said, “I can’t say that, but you can.”