Media Lifeline: Big Brother

TV producers and advertisers bid farewell to the TV show that gave them audiences all summer long.

1815: The Bedlam freak show, part of English social life for generations, is ended. Metropolitan ABC1 audiences had been able, on the payment of 1d, to witness, from special "social networking" galleries, the hilarious antics of the inmates of the country's top mental hospital. But the post-war era is marked by a spirit of progressive Romanticism - and the hospital's governors eventually bow to objections from bleeding-heart liberals.

1948: George Orwell writes a novel in which the totalitarian state, personified by Big Brother, monitors the thoughts and feelings and deeds of its enslaved citizens. In time, the book is turned into a film, an opera, and concept album by Rick Wakeman.

2000: But the real media breakthrough comes when the Bedlam strand is rediscovered. The Endemol production company and Channel 4 take a group of emotionally unstable people, incarcerate them in a house, and monitor them. It's billed as a gameshow "contest" and the coverage explores the potential of emergent digital media channels. It proves instantly popular with advertisers - the first series is sponsored by a whisky distiller.

2007: There are, unfortunately, some misdemeanours as the Big Brother franchise builds momentum. The most notorious event of all involved Jade Goody being accused of racism towards a fellow contestant, Shilpa Shetty.

2010: After a decade of raking in ad revenue on the back of the programme, Channel 4 - stupidly, some say - bows to pressure from bleeding-heart liberals who maintain that Big Brother is cynically exploitative tabloid TV designed to celebrate the very worst in human nature. Channel 4 marks the valedictory launch of the last series by sending wreaths to advertising agencies and the offices of trade magazines.

Fast forward ...

2020: In a season to mark the 20th anniversary of the first BB series, the Endemol-owned Channel 4 runs a souped-up BB, which is also influenced by the US Bumfights franchise. Inmates in a state-sponsored encampment for economically distressed men are encouraged to drink heavily, then fight each other or undergo disfiguring physical torture to win cash prizes and/or their freedom. The show is sponsored by a multinational distiller.

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