The stars are aligned for a special edition of Big Brother.
The CBS summer flagship will air a celebrity spinoff of the series in winter 2018.
The new version of the show will air on the network and will feature multiple episodes per week during a concentrated run — including the signature Head of Household and Power of Veto competitions and live evictions. In addition, CBS All Access will again invite viewers inside the Big Brother house for an unfiltered look at its cast with the 24/7 live feed.
Julie Chen will host the celebrity edition, which is an addition to Big Brother’s milestone 20th season that will air in summer 2018.
The news comes on the heels of the show’s 19th season averaging 7.35 million viewers per episode, with all three showings ranking among summer’s top 5 broadcasts among adults 18-49. It’s also reached its highest ratings since season 13 in 2011, while the digital engagement is up year over year.
The anomaly of what the series has been able to maintain (becoming a live-streaming event and airing three episodes a week) since its inception in 2000 is what pushed the network’s hand into dipping into the celebrity genre that has appeared over the years on other networks.
Chen tells The Hollywood Reporter about her initial conversation with her husband and CEO of CBS Leslie Moonves, “He said, “You and your show are single-handedly keeping this network afloat during the summer. You’re keeping this network running.'”
Adding, “If you know one thing about my husband, it has to make economic sense. They crunched the numbers and said, ‘Based on the following we have, we can do it and make it work and make it profitable.'”
Says CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl, “Big Brother has been a ratings winner since its premiere in 2000, and keeps going strong with a passionate fan base across multiple platforms — on-air, online and on social.”
The network’s recent summer offerings over the years — including the freshman series Candy Crush hosted by Mario Lopez — haven’t been able to make the same footing as the longtime reality competition.
This isn’t the first time the network has utilized the success of the franchise to expand into other properties. Most recently, its all-online version of the show, Big Brother Over the Top, was the premier series for CBS All Access, and in 2007 Big Brother: After Dark premiered on Showtime before making its way to Pop TV in 2013. And under the Endemol Shine umbrella the series airs in over 40 countries including an already running Celebrity Big Brother in the U.K.
In previous years, the U.K. version has cast stars including Pamela Anderson, Gary Busey, Stephen Baldwin, Perez Hilton, Ivana Trump and MTV’s Spencer and Heidi Pratt. Casting is underway for the untitled CBS iteration and will be revealed at a later date.
To get all the details on the latest Big Brother expansion, THR dialed up Chen and returning executive producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan of Fly on the Wall Entertainment to talk about what fans can expect, casting challenges and how it impacts the show moving forward.
This summer, the series witnessed some of its highest ratings since 2011. What do you attribute to the recent growth?
Chen: New, young viewers discover it every summer. Sometimes it’s because they don’t have a license yet, they’re too young to drive, they have a curfew and they suddenly flip on the TV and discover it that way. And with social media they see these outrageous clips that get surfaced and when they see it they think, “What is that from?” Or in this season we saw someone like [contestant] Jessica [Graf], who was the resident hottie and heroine where she had a picture of herself at eight years old with her dad and she said it was something her dad loved and she used to watch it with her dad.
Grodner: We’ve noticed through the years that our fan base is multi-generational and the immediacy of this show is unique. You can’t binge-watch it. This is a show where you need to be in the know as it happens and you want to be.
Meehan: It’s always casting and putting a good mix together, and the twists have become part of our format where you never know [what’s going to happen] every season.
Chen: It’s not scripted, it’s real. You get hooked whether you like the people or you love to hate the people. It’s a real-life soap opera. You get to know who they are and you want to see their outcome. The other shows in the summer don’t have that. We air three nights a week and we could easily air seven nights a week because there is so much content and story happening.
Julie, you were one of the first people to find out about the celebrity edition. What was your conversation with Les like about bringing this version to air?
Chen: My husband came home and said, “Well, it’s official.” We had toyed with it dating back to season two. Paris Hilton agreed to do it and Roseanne Barr also said she was going to and then she backed out. It didn’t come together and I’m glad it didn’t so early on into the series. This is a direct quote from my husband. He said, “You and your show are single-handedly keeping this network afloat during the summer.” He says it all the time, “I’m telling you Jules, you’re keeping this network running. You guys continue to make us money.” He said to me, “You’re going to have to quit the show before the show is off the air. This was the first summer he said, “With these numbers I don’t see an end in sight. This series could on for a long time and longer than you’re going to be a part of it.” That’s how long he sees it going on based on the following, the ratings and the numbers.
But you have no plans to leave anytime soon, correct?
Chen: Didn’t Bob Barker do like 55 years [on the Price is Right]? I bow to him.
Grodner: (Laughs) Julie can be doing this for a long time. It’s hard to imagine the show without her.
Why are you now dipping into the celebrity genre, which is something other networks have done previously?
Chen: If you know one thing about my husband, it has to make economic sense. They crunched the numbers and said, “Based on the following that we have we could do it and make it work and make it profitable, but certain things have to happen.” It’s a condensed version. Because if you’re going to get celebrities you find me a celebrity who can give you 90 days [of their time]. There’s no such thing. It’s hard enough to book them to come on The Talk for a 15-minute interview. I get the economics of it.
Meehan: With success for 19 seasons and always being a strong performer, which in today’s market is really rare, it’s a fun new way to expand the brand and the Big Brother universe.
Do you see the celebrity edition airing every winter, and how will it impact the franchise moving forward?
Chen: If the model works and it has a big following and makes the money, we’re no fools. Let’s recreate the magic again. I don’t know if it will be an every winter thing or if it will have an affect on the summer. But I know one thing, my husband and his team explore all options.
Are you worried about over saturation of the series?
Chen: I am a little bit. I felt like Big Brother: Over the Top might have fallen a little in that category. Part of our success is that we’re only on once a year and it’s only during the summer where the competition isn’t as stiff. It’s easier to be a winner in the summer than it is in the fall and winter. I’m hopeful, but I’m going to reserve judgment.
What are the mechanics that will need to go into making the new edition work?
Meehan: We’re going to keep what makes the show work including the HoH and Veto [competitions] and the live evictions. The challenge will be turning it into an event that feels special for the winter.
Grodner: It’s important that it still feels like Big Brother, but it doesn’t infringe on what we all know about the summer. It will have its own spin. And it needs to feel like an event series that we do each year.
Chen: The magic is always in the casting. It’s the same thing whether you’re a celebrity or not a celebrity. [Houseguest] Cody [Nickson] this year is an example of someone who was on the cusp that certain people were fighting for [to cast] and other people wanted someone else. It’s going to be the same game. The concept is going to be the same. Hopefully it will be household names.
Other celebrity variations of reality TV cast mid-level talent. Are you aiming higher than that?
Chen: We’re being realistic. It’s not going to be all Oscar winners. But maybe we’ll have someone who won an Oscar decades ago. Whoever casts Dancing With the Stars does an amazing job. They don’t always get all household names, but some people kind of reinvent themselves and suddenly I see that person all over the tabloids. Sometimes these types of shows, like in the U.K. [version], some of the washed-up names that went into it got a new lease on life. And the big names that went in, it was a little bit too up close and personal. Those people did themselves in with letting the public see who they really are.
Meehan: We’re just starting discussions and we’re looking for people who are going to be fun. Maybe there are some celebrity fans of the show that we’ll mix in there. We’re going to create a big list and go out and see who we can get.
Grodner: It will be an eclectic group with diverse personalities and we’re looking forward to seeing who will be interested.
With the 24/7 access to talent, do you see that as a challenge in booking the cast? What are the other challenges?
Grodner: Everything about it, to be honest. There’s no privacy and that’s going to be a hurdle in getting a celebrity onboard.
Chen: Most celebrities and people don’t know that they have an ugly side. I’ve always said Big Brother is like holding up a mirror one inch away from your face and really examining who you are.
Former houseguest Frankie Grande appeared on the U.K. version. Are you ruling out former players?
Grodner: We’re now just diving into it so can’t give any answers on that. It’s all still being worked out on what it’s going to look like.
With the cost of getting talent for this edition rule out an all-stars season for summer 2018?
Meehan: We haven’t done any work on season 20.
Grodner: Season 20 is a huge milestone for this show so obviously that’s special. I’m sure there will be some new things about it.
Do you plan on switching up the house and studio for the celebrity version?
Grodner: It’ll certainly be a new look.
Meehan: There will definitely be some things different about the house because we’re doing it more of an event instead of a three month series. There will be some tweaks and changes to the rooms and the outside that will be necessary.
Grodner: And it’s a winter edition so we need to think about weather. The outside will reflect that.
Who are your dream gets for the series?
Grodner: [Wednesday night’s] show you saw Bobby Moynihan, who is an amazing fan who really knows everything and couldn’t have been more excited to participate. That would be awesome.
Chen: Tonya Harding. Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, that’s a love affair waiting to happen. Sean Spicer and Melissa McCarthy, which will never happen. Andy Cohen is a superfan, hilarious and speaks his mind. He’s not afraid to stand up for himself or a friend and he’s fiercely loyal. And who is the one who acts crazy every now and then? Is it Shia LaBeouf? I don’t know if I want him.
Who do you want to see cast in the celebrity edition on CBS? Do you think former players will be considered for the cast? Sound off in the comments section below and stay tuned to the Live Feed for all things Big Brother.