Whether Paul Abrahamian wins Big Brother 19 tonight or not, whether there’s a bitter jury or not, his presence has ruined this season. A veteran came back, was showered with advantages and immunity thanks to the production, and bowled over the rest of the house, which was all too willing to let him do it. There may have been entertaining moments along the way, but as Adam Poch wrote, it seems destined to become “one of the least favorite seasons” ever.
But it’s not Paul’s fault that the season has been a woefully disappointing mess. Nor is it casting director Robyn Kass’ fault for choosing this cast.
It’s also not executive producer Allison Grodner’s fault that Big Brother has been terrible this year and is consistently failing to live up to its potential.
Grodner tends to get a lot of criticism online—just search Twitter and see how much more blame she gets than her producing partner Rich Meehan—and some of that is fair, especially since she defends the show publicly.
Yet it’s not her fault because Allison Grodner is producing the show CBS wants.
I do think it’s fair to criticize the choices and decisions reality TV show producers make, but as I’ve learned more and more in recent years, network executives have an incredible amount of influence over what we watch, mostly because it’s their money on the line. (Just read some of these satirical network notes to see what kind of feedback many reality producers deal with daily, and imagine trying to produce a quality program while trying to satisfy that lunacy.)
So CBS and its executives approve the casts, themes, and twists, and they’re getting what they want from Grodner, Meehan, and company.
But CBS is also not to blame.
That’s because the person most at fault is you.
You are to blame for Big Brother’s awfulness. So am I.
Yes, you. And me. And the media, from wonderful fan sites to the media outlets that pander to the show’s rabid online fanbase by churning out Big Brother content to get clicks.
I’m not trying to do that here, nor am I trying to be sensational or flip or superior: I watch and cover this show, at least until I can’t stand it any more. Every year, I hope that the show will be as great as I know it can be—and as it has been in the past. Shows I don’t truly like or believe in, I ignore. Life’s too short to waste that much time on something that isn’t worth it.
But I really, honestly believe this to be true: Everyone who engages with or watches this show are to blame for how much it sucks.
We can start with Nielsen families, whose viewing habits create ratings. Big Brother’s three weekly episodes have once again dominated linear ratings this summer; all three episodes are consistently among the top 20 shows, if not the top 10. And they grow when DVR usage is added in.
Then there are the rest of us, who watch and live tweet and hashtag. We hang out in forums and chat with our friends about the show, watch it online, and subscribe to the live feeds. We read exit interviews and articles and interviews with the producers. And a lot of this is really fun; I adore and appreciate Hamsterwatch’s take on the live feeds, for just one example.
Still: Even if we’re just talking with online friends and complaining together, or searching for some sign that the powers-that-be recognize the problem, we’re contributing to it.
We’ve given CBS—and Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan—absolutely no incentive to change. None.
Alas, complaining about it on Twitter or on a reality TV web site isn’t helping. It’s just adding to the conversation: every click, every view, every tweet is more metric to be counted to show how passionate people are about this show. This is a show that inspires the most emotional responses of any television show in the summer, and it’s not even a competition: For the first part of the season, the show had 41 times more emotional responses than other TV shows.
If people are that passionate, can Big Brother really be broken? The answer, from those who are making it, is no. We’ve given them everything anyone in Hollywood could want: ratings, a secondary revenue stream (from live feed subscribers), and tons of conversation.
If there’s a drop-off in ratings? Cancellations of CBS All Access subscriptions? Fewer engagement with social media posts? No more pointless interviews with evicted houseguests who have nothing of substance to say?
That might have an effect. Sure, the network might still be stubborn, or cheap, and sure, the producers still might make choices we don’t like or agree with.
But the only way to make sure the people who make Big Brother start caring is for us to stop.