Big Brother’s Allison Grodner on live feed watchers (including Les Moonves), sex, bigotry, and more

After TV critics’ tour of the Big Brother house, executive producer Allison Grodner answered questions in the green room, where a bowl of slop was on the table for everyone to try, and a refrigerator was marked with a sign that says “The contents of this fridge are for the Houseguests only.”

The conversation was mostly tame, probably because no one had ever really watched the show before, or at least not paid attention intensely to the 24/7 drama that it can provide, both in terms of the contestants and the production. At least, that was my impression. But before I asked her about the show’s manipulative editing, she did offer some interesting comments about Big Brother. And since the feeds are dark all day today, I figured we needed something to sustain us until tonight’s episode.

As before, please do not copy and paste this into your message board or blog, or I will find a way to cut your live feeds permanently. Feel free, of course, to link directly to this post using the tools at the end of the story. Thanks!

  • What makes Big Brother different: Grodner told us that this is “the least manipulated reality show out there” because “we let the game play out” and “we have checks and balances, 24/7 armchair producers, watching this live, 24/7. Try producing a show with not only everyone on this compound–including [CBS president and Julie Chen's husband] Leslie Moonves himself watching this is in his office. You have to be on the level; we can’t get in there and change things.” She said they “put things into the game structurally that propel the drama” but that’s it, so “there’s a lot of real in it.”
  • Live feed watchers’ role: “We have thousands of people watching everything that’s going on in there and calling us on it,” which she said “can be quite brutal, but it’s also what makes this show special, and it’s also what makes this work on so many levels, so we do embrace those people and love having them.”
  • Why sex isn’t shown: “We’ve had plenty of sex on or show, we just don’t feature it here,” she said. “It’s just the state of what’s allowed on air. And also, I think, our audience. We’ve gotten a lot more conservative.”
  • Bikinis and the amount of skin shown versus Europe: “Back in season three, we used to have girls wearing g-string bikinis, which is all over Europe. That’s not allowed here any more. You can’t have that. They all have to show us their bikinis before going in to make sure we don’t have to blur. That’s post-Janet Jackson,” Grodner said, noting that it was different in seasons two, three, and even four. “It’s just us, it’s the U.S., whereas in Europe, you’re right, it’s much more purely voyeuristic. There’s a lot of sex, there’s a lot nudity, there’s a lot of talk of sex and nudity, and they embrace that. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
  • A potential celebrity edition: “Celebrities here don’t want to give up that much privacy. It’s definitely harder. I wouldn’t say it’s out of the question, but it’s definitely harder,” she said. “You have so much of that celebrity [reality TV]” already, she said, and when they did have conversations about a celebrity edition, “it was never anything where we felt like we had a cast that we wanted to do that with.”
  • Why HOH winners can’t compete the following week: “The fun of the show is the power shifts. And that’s really important to the drama of the show,” Grodner said. “If we did we’d risk having someone dominate the show for the entire time. The show wouldn’t be good. We count on the transfer of power; that’s what makes it fun.”
  • Why she likes working in reality TV:“I really do like the real emotion that–again, I say this phrase a lot, but ‘expect the unexpected,’ which really is what that true reality stuff is.”
  • When bigotry is censored for the TV broadcast: My friend Michael Jensen, the editor of After Elton, interrupted the love-fest to ask about the “disconnect” between the live feeds and the edited show. “It’s hard, and we want to do that carefully. We always say that these are real people and they are not being censored in there. And they have opinions and so forth that we don’t necessarily agree with and condone and want to put out there further, to be honest,” Grodner told us. “We really don’t want to put hateful things out there in our edits. And so for the most part, when this goes down, we keep that out of the show. It doesn’t mean it’s not out there, it certainly was caught on the Internet. But usually you’ll see that statements that go out–it’s true, they’re real people in there with their own opinions they’re put in there because they have a variety of backgrounds and we can’t predict what they’re going to say.”
  • Intent versus reality: That’s when I brought up the awful edit of last season’s racist fight which made the aggressor look better than those who were responding to him because it edited out his racism. I told Grodner that he ultimately came out looking fine when the targets of his rant looked crazy. “I guess that I would dispute that he looked ‘fine,’” she said. “We like to keep the intent of what happened, and ultimately the outcome of him being sort of crazy and what he was trying to do. But it did go out there, it was out there for the show that was on the Internet, people saw all of that. And it was a choice that was made not to put it out any further, not to propel those things out into the universe with our edit.” (And I gave up; clearly, we don’t agree on this.)
  • How live feeds affect the editing: “It changes the way that we have to cut the show. We try to keep this as honest as possible because it’s there. You can play back what went on the Internet,” Grodner said. (Alas, that’s true until Real Networks has the video removed by filing a DMCA takedown notice with YouTube, which no one fights because that is a scary thing.) Grodner continued, “If the intent of the scene is completely different from what we cut, from what really happened, people can compare it instantly. So we have to be careful about that.”
  • “The fun of the show”: “Not to mention just being able to see everything happen, which is part of the fun of the show.” It’s especially fun when you can see nothing happening for two days.

The group interview ended then, but a few days later, I talked to both Grodner and her producing partner, Rich Meehan, about the other things that bug me about the show: cutting the feeds when houseguests talk about production, showmances, and that damn stupid final HOH challenge, among other things. Check back soon for that interview.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.