Big Baboon House: another former Big Brother producer’s knock-off debuts tonight

Tonight, yet another Big Brother knock-off comes to television, but this series bests the CBS show because it has a cast with far more intelligence, social skills, and refined behavior than Robyn Kass and her team have ever found: baboons.

Yes, Nat Geo Wild’s Big Baboon House–all three hours of which air tonight starting at 8 p.m. ET–is full of primates interacting on what looks like a replica of CBS’ soundstage house and is executive produced by a former Big Brother producer. (ALERT THE LAWYERS!) Actually, the house is in a South African town that has trouble with baboon break-ins, and was constructed to study their behavior.

One of the producers, development director Jaco Botha, wrote in a blog post that they did “something that nobody to my knowledge has done before — to film and document what baboons get up to when they break into houses. To see what happens when they find themselves confronted with the joys and puzzles of a human habitat. … we could study them in very close proximity without having any effect on their ‘natural’ behavior.”

That’s fascinating, but for the actual show, they’ve used both a narrator and voice-over actors, and it doesn’t work. The voice-overs are grating and rarely funny, and pull you out of the reality of watching baboons interacting with each other and even with people. Executive producer Jon Kroll–who created Amish in the City and has executive produced Big Brother and The Amazing Racedefends that decision and explains why and when they used it.

But the baboons’ behavior and their interaction by itself is often hilarious, especially on this set, and makes for a fun watch. It reminds me a lot of Animal Planet’s Meerkat Manor, the series that followed meerkats in their actual habitat, using both narration and manipulative editing to turn their lives into a soap opera (watch on Amazon for free), but without the fake dialogue. Yes, even in my animal reality series, I want a bit more authenticity.

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