It's Big Brother finale day and I have to admit I couldn't sleep last night as I was so excited. OK, I'm exaggerating my excitement - a lot - but I do want to know if the deserved winner will win over the long-time favourite.
As English Dave pointed out Big Brother has not only been Channel 4's biggest show (and the most popular Big Brother year ever) but it has bested the main primetime dramas on the BBC and the ITV. As I said on his comments page it was because Big Brother has more interesting characters, more drama and better storylines.
With the reality writers strike on America's Top Model still going on, it's worthwhile pointing out just how much 'reality' and 'unscripted' programming owes to dramatic conventions and scriptwriting.
What Big Brother does is what I do when trying to create a long-running series. My equivalent of brainstorming characters is their auditioning lots of people. Some characters are simply not going to work and they can be discarded, others are worth keeping a while longer.
Having assembled a long list of several characters who are interesting enough in themselves and have an attitude and point of view and a goal, they then try and think about what characters would work well together. Not necessarily would get on with each other but would also cause some drama.
For instance you might try to ensure that for every character there is someone for them to talk to, someone for them to snog and someone they would hate. That ensures that we know what they're thinking, there can be some romance and there will be some conflict.
The process isn't flawless however as BB housemate Mikey in his film profile insisted that he believed women should shut up and do as they're told and their only role was to serve men and yet in the house he bottled out of any direct sexist comments to women and only made his views known via subtext e.g. his body language and attitude when women disagreed with him.
As screenwriters we can try and ensure we capture those more subtle qualities of the misogynist but also ensure that there's a major conflict with the feminist character over something important.
People tuning into Big Brother for the first time often say it's boring and it's just people talking in a house. To appreciate BB you do have to be interested in people and like character-driven entertainment. However because it is character-driven and based on relationships, unless you know the characters and their immediate history in the past episodes, much will be lost. But it is rewarding when something pays off that started to build several weeks ago.
Once you have set up those characters then you can't rely on them to provide conflict and emotional moments on their own you have to carefully construct it or create it. Aisleyne was pushed to breaking point at having other housemate's fates in her hands in the secret house. It was her choice if they stayed or left. OK, it wasn't exactly Sophie's Choice but in the context of a celebrity obsessed culture where a stay in the house could make you a millionaire, whether you win or not, then the stakes were raised high enough for true drama.
That was one of many storylines where Big Brother was called unnecessarily cruel but you have to put your characters through hell; you need to treat them mean to keep the audience keen.
One character, Grace, left the Big Brother house but came back in the house next door. In there she was saying how she would love to confront Aisleyne and tell her what's what. Aishleyne stated how she wanted to question Grace about her rudeness to another housemate. But they weren't able to meet up with each other being in two different houses and so a major dramatic scene would be lost. The solution: BB allowed Grace to go into the main house as a 'birthday present'. It was contrived but believable; a lot more believeable than just opening the door to the house and saying 'you go for it, girl!'. Likewise in drama we obviously want the dramatic moments but they have to appear more natural than contrived. In the end Aislyne did confront Grace who shamed herself by running away and not living up to her prior boasts and threats.
But let's not forget about the comedy. In yesterday's show, Big Brother spoke Welsh only to the frustration of the housemates (apart from the sole Welsh speaking housemate). While it seemed an obvious and initially slightly dull way of livening up the house, it ended up giving us some great scenes. Glyn the Welsh speaker gave Nikki words of apology to say in Welsh to Big Brother except they weren't words of apology she was sincerely parroting but insults about herself.
I prefer characters to have had some kind of journey in drama and have changed and learnt something about themselves. So this year it's either Glyn or Aisleyne. As Aisleyne has had the toughest time in there by far my vote goes to her. Aisleyne to win.