Big bother: Why did that reality-tv show become such a phenomenon? By Toni Johnson-Woods. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2002, pp. 256, A$19.95, paperback, ISBN 0702233153. In 2001, Australian audiences were the latest in a line of countries to experience the reality-tv programme Big Brother. As in other
countries, the initial series of Big Brother in Australia attracted an enormous following. Toni-Johnson-Woods’ Big bother seeks to
provide a revealing insight into the Big Brother programme and the way that it and other reality-tv programmes work (p. vii). As an
introductory companion, Big bother provides a solid overview of the initial series of Big Brother and serves as a useful introduction to cultural studies and media studies. However, as an extended analysis of a deceptively complex programme, Big bother is decidedly less successful. Subtitled ‘why did that reality-TV show become such a phenomenon?’ Johnson-Woods makes it clear that she is somewhat bemused by the popularity of Big Brother. ‘A show about “Bugger all”’, she muses, ‘could hardly be classed as entertainment. But for millions of Australian viewers it was exactly that, entertaining’ (p. vi). Elsewhere in the introduction she likens it to a dull test match: ‘It was not about winning; it was exciting just watching the show, even if the show was boring’ (p. x). The week by week account of events dryly detailed in chapter 5 certainly appears to support this contention. However, in the same introduction, and indeed in the body of the study, the reasons for the programme’s popularity are in fact identified. Observing that ‘nothing about Big Brother was new’, Johnson-Woods correctly points out that: ‘The desire for fame, the opportunity to win easy money… [and] the viewer’s penchant for watching other people’ provide a sturdy framework for television ratings’, p. xii). Big Brother’s popularity also stemmed from its hybrid nature. The programme capitalised on its ability to blur...
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