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Big Brother’s casting director responds to criticism

Big Brother’s casting director responds to criticism
Liz and Julia Nolan, Big Brother 17's twin twist. (Photo by Bill Inoshita/CBS)

Big Brother casting director has Robyn Kass responded to criticism of the BB17 cast from CBS CEO Les Moonves and others.

In an interview with The Toronto Sun, Kass is very diplomatic, which is not surprising since Moonves is basically her boss and was directly criticizing her work:

“Listen, everyone has their own opinion…. and, of course, I respect his opinion more than anybody’s. I hope he wasn’t disappointed with the whole cast, but I’m not a mind reader! I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know how people are going to play out. It’s been a polarizing cast. Fans who loved last year’s cast don’t like his season’s, and vice versa. I’ll listen to anything Les has to say. We’ll see what happens next year.”

She makes some fair points; for example, I loved last year’s cast and a lot of people felt the opposite. It is also very difficult to know just what will happen when a group comes together and interacts. And the cast is just one component of a successful season.

Big Brother’s casting director on why the cast is so young

The interview also covered the lack of diversity among the houseguests in terms of age. As I reported, the average age of a Big Brother houseguest is 28.9, and has dropped recently. It’s also significantly lower than the average age of a Survivor contestant.

Kass told the paper:

“Whenever someone says to me, ‘Why isn’t there more of this or that in the show?’ my answer is always this: ‘The best people, at the time, get on the show.’ For example, say we get 10 thousand applicants each season, I would say 9,600 of them are 32 and under. And if you consider only 1 out of 100 people move forward, the question is: do we put someone older in just because they’re mature — or do you put someone in that is younger because they’re a better character? It’s a back-and-forth discussion. And some older people don’t apply because they think we won’t cast them. That’s the problem. It’s a supply-and-demand issue — and it happens all over reality TV.”

To be clear: it’s not a network mandate to cast people under 30?

“No! Next season, if we have amazing people in their 50s or 60s apply, bring it. Please apply if you want to be on the show — no matter what your demo is.”

The problem with this argument, of course, is one she identifies: By not casting older people, older people don’t apply, and then they don’t get cast because the pool is mostly young people. It’s a self-defeating circle.

The person with the power to break that cycle is not the next Renny or Jerry sitting on their couch, but the casting director.

Survivor famously recruited nearly all of its diverse Cook Islands and Fiji casts, and that showed people who otherwise wouldn’t have applied that someone like them could be cast.

In other words, good casting is not just reactive, it’s proactive. And it’s really telling that Robyn Kass thinks the problem is who applies, not who they find. She does talk about recruiting, but says, “Our job is to tell everyone we’re casting.”

Actually, no. I know how impossibly challenging it is to cast a show, and what an imperfect science it is, but really, I don’t think the job is just to tell people to apply. It’s also to find the best people, especially those who wouldn’t automatically seek out being locked in a soundstage for three months to compete in silly challenges.

Doing that might lead to a cast that’s more diverse in age and life experience, and that will make for a better Big Brother.

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  • 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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