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How did Big Brother get its best ratings since 2004 for one of its worst seasons?

Big Brother 13 concludes tonight after having been, for the most part, a disappointment of a season. While there was a series of awesome events, that followed weeks and weeks of boredom caused largely by the producers’ weak twist, bringing back three couples and forcing everyone to play as couples.

Yet the show has had what CBS calls “its most successful summer in both viewers and adults 18-49 since 2004, with growth on all platforms from on-air to online and on cable.”

Earlier in the summer, that didn’t seem like it would be the case. Ratings fell from the premiere as about 1 million people fled. Last Thursday’s episode lost about three million viewers from the previous week, owing to both football competition and the fact that nothing is happening any more.

But averages are up so CBS is thrilled, so you can expect more of the same next summer. Its reality executive, Jen Bresnan, said in a press release, “Growing a show in its 13th edition on all these platforms is testament to the amazing creativity and energy of our producers. At every step of the way, they deliver innovative twists and turns that consistently evolve this proven franchise and engage one of the most loyal and interactive fan bases on television and online.”

None of that is true, of course, except for the fact that fans are engaged and that the show has grown in the ratings. In addition to using the exact same format, music, and dialogue for every single episode, the producers recycled and redressed challenges from last season (and previous seasons), and relentlessly focused on stories from previous seasons that we stopped caring about back then. Even the Zingbot failed. Except maybe for bringing Tori Spelling into the house for a few minutes, there was absolutely no creativity whatsoever.

Yet the show has consistently won its timeslot, which is really all that matters, and it has grown from last summer: On average, CBS said, the show has had “overall gains of +11% in adults 18-49 (3.1/09 from 2.8/09), +4% in adults 18-34 (2.5/09 from 2.4/08), +12% in adults 25-54 (3.7/10 from 3.3/09) and +4% in viewers (8.11m from 7.80m).”

Even more baffling: the audience on Showtime 2 grew eight percent this year, “averaging 168,000 viewers per night,” CBS said. That’s not many, but nothing happens on After Dark, ever. The promos use a single clip to pretend that every night is a drunken orgy, but instead it’s absurdly boring.

There were 10 percent more live feed watchers this year, and 18 percent more traffic to the show’s crap web site on The ridiculous hashtag #CBSBigBrother, which ignored fans’ usage of #BB13 and resulted in clueless viewers using #ABCBigBrother #NBCBigBrother, may have even helped the show add Twitter followers (up 2,753 percent).

Why all this improvement? My best educated guess is that it has to do with three things Big Brother has going for it. First, there is nearly nothing else on all summer, and the show does not have real or reality competition in its timeslots. Second, the show’s best asset is that it sucks you in even when it sucks. The potential for power shifts encourages viewers to stick with it even when you’re ready to bail. Those rare moments when it pays off ensure you’ll keep tuning in, because you don’t want to miss anything.

Finally, it breeds engagement, and gives its viewers something to do even when the show isn’t on the air. From from the spewing vile hate to constructing conspiracy theories when producers cutting the feeds to just wondering what happens next, the show’s core DNA pairs perfectly with that of the Internet and social media, which is growing even as the producers’ creativity is declining. So even though the body is totally rotten and decaying, Big Brother lives on.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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