Big Brother – When Real Life Hits A Reality TV Show
What do you do when real life collides with a reality TV show? This is what happened on Big Brother yesterday when Josh Moore left the compound after being told his older and only brother had unexpectedly passed away.
Channel NINE in the short term has to ensure Josh and his family are treated with care, as they do the housemates and the production crew who would be affected by the tragedy.
However long term they have a multi-million dollar investment to protect, sponsors to please and viewers to retain for another month. They need content that will keep people entertained and tuning in. They need to do this without being seen to be exploiting a sad situation.
For the first time in Big Brother Australia history the cameras were turned off to allow the housemates to be told about the sad event and say farewell to Josh in privacy.
It was the right thing to do, however to have shown a scene like that would have been real reality TV and would be extremely compelling to watch. It would also not have been ethical. It was eerie enough tonight watching the episode knowing that an upbeat Josh was about to hear the most devastating news. The last shot of Josh walking towards the Captain Quarters was very uncomfortable to view. We knew that we were watching his last moment of life as he used to know it.
What have other reality shows done in the past when tragic events have occurred? Late last year the husband of Real Housewives of Beverley Hills cast member, Taylor Armstrong, killed himself three weeks before the airing of season two. At the time there were rumours that the series would not be screened.
One of the major plot lines of that season was the break down of their marriage. However the series went ahead and Bravo, the TV network, attracted some criticism about it.
“When we heard about the tragedy, of course all hearts went out to Taylor,” producer Douglas Ross told NBC today. “But we, with all of the network, took a hard look at the show and … we decided to make some adjustments where appropriate in light of the circumstances.”
The dramatic decline of Armstrong’s marriage was rumored to be a focus of season two. But after adjustments, Armstrong will not appear in the first four episodes, Ross said.
Also here on Big Brother in 2007 series, housemate Emma Cornell father died while she was in the house. It was his wish that she not be told and to continue her Big Brother experience. However his death leaked to the media and the viewer knew of the event before she did. At the time there was a criticism with people saying she should be told so she could make the decision of what to do. Her father and her had recently reconciled. At the time Big Brother defended this decision saying it was the family’s wishes.
She was told of her father’s death 24 hours before her eviction with her brother and a psychologist in the room. On eviction night she had a little time on the stage with Gretel but did not talk about her father.
The Big Brother producers in the USA handled a situation after September 11 attack differently. One of the three remaining contestants cousin was missing after the attack on the towers and they aired her receiving this news.
BB2 broke the show’s news-blackout rule and told the trio the day of the attack because of Monica’s personal connection (her sister called to alert producers that day), but decided not to show disaster video because ”that would have meant putting a TV in the house [for follow-up reports],” says exec producer Arnold Shapiro. ”No one inside asked for that.”
Viewers, however, got to see tape of producers telling Monica about her missing cousin on the Sept. 18 episode, which some critics said was exploitative. But since those watching BB2 online—via 24-hour Internet cams—were speculating about what CBS was not airing, Shapiro says he felt the need to show how the news was delivered. ”If Monica had become hysterical we wouldn’t have shown that,” he says. ”But they [all] took it, with shock and concern, but very maturely.”
Sunday night’s eviction has now been cancelled which on balance is the right thing to do. Emotions in the house most of the time must be magnified, because of the isolation and lack of stimulation. To have Josh leave under horrible circumstances and then another person leave would make the housemates feel emotionally vulnerable.
The aftermath of Josh’s brother Toby death could be compelling to watch as the viewer will see how the housemate’s react to this news.
There is no doubt the housemates would be stunned and saddened however later they may feel uncomfortable about looking happy or having fun thinking the voting viewer will think they are uncaring. This will be extremely relevant when the nominated housemates find out they are now safe this week. There is $250,000 at stake.
The challenge for production is to balance the need to show respect Josh and his family, ensure the housemates are coping and keep the viewer tuned in to the show.