HOLLYWOOD, July 3, 2000 - For many, the Big Brother universe depicted in George Orwell's "1984" may be a resounding social critique on, oh, totalitarianism. But to the folks at CBS, it's just another damn good idea for a reality-based game show. Yes, from the network that brought you "Survivor", comes "Big Brother" (premiering Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT/PDT after you-know-what) -- yet another real-people-being-watched-all-the-time, process-of-eliminating-each-other-for-money series.
The series - based on a 1999 ratings-busting Netherlands show of the same name (that's right, not all great ideas come from the minds of U.S. network execs) - can best be described as a cross between "The Real World" and high-security prison.
For three months, 10 specially chosen (but so far unidentified) men and women - representing "a cross-section of personalities, ethnicities, geographies, and sexual orientations," as the press release has it - will live under one roof and have their lives taped for public display. Every other week, two persons will be nominated for dismissal by the larger group.
And perhaps to ease resentment between those who get evicted and those who stay, home audiences will get to vote on who they want to kick off the show. The last person that remains in the house gets the big payoff of $500,000.
Sounds doable, right? Did we fail to mention that the 10 people cannot, under any circumstances, leave the house (if they do, they cannot come back) and - since we're on the subject of rules - maintain any type of contacts with the outside world.
You see, in the "Big Brother" universe, everyday givens like telephones, televisions, computers, fax machines, CD players, VCRs, Palm Pilots, newspapers, microwaves, washing machines, etc… - in other words, modern living - are outlawed. But what is provided is a weekly ration of hot water, a small stipend for groceries (yes, even though they can't leave the house - no, we don't understand that one, either), one stove with an oven, one running toilet, a garden, a swimming pool and, um, some chickens. (Read on.)
The point of such asceticism is to push the 10 to be self-sufficient - you know, grow your own vegetables, raise your own chickens, live like hippies (or the Amish).
And as if imposed abstinence from the world is not bad enough, the so-called "Big Brother House" and yard (for the chickens) - built from ground up on the CBS lot in Studio City, Calif. - are wired to the bejezus. Sixty microphones, 28 cameras (four of which equipped with infrared for "night vision"), 40 TV monitors in the control room and 69 two-way mirrors are installed to make sure that not one sneeze can go uncaptured.
And for fans of the Internet, a live streaming video of the house will be available online 24 hours a day, seven days a week on America Online.
With a show as extra special as this, CBS has decided to run "Big Brother" five days a week - Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays will be half-hour recaps of what happened during the previous 24 hours; Thursdays will be one-hour live broadcasts where participants come together to oust the unwanted elements; and, Saturdays will be one-hour weekly recaps of the week that was.
And as to that strange rocking sound that you might hear during the show, that'll just be George Orwell turning over in his grave.