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Inside the biggest hidden-camera show ever to appear on U.S. TV

CBS announces plans for ”Big Brother,” which will air five nights a week this summer

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In what’s sure to mark a new trend in network television, CBS will reformat a hugely popular Dutch show that could easily be described as ”The Real World” on speed. In early July the eye network will debut ”Big Brother,” a hidden-camera reality program that sequesters 9 or 10 ”contestants” in a house for 100 days. Cut off from the outside world — with no access to phones, computers, TV, or newspapers — the participants learn to adapt while 24 cameras and 59 microphones record their every move round the clock.

Charles Darwin could have a field day with the rest of the format: The housemates will regularly vote on which two of their roommates should leave. But the public, through telephone and online voting, will actually decide who is kicked out. And as a part of this queer popularity contest, the viewers also choose the winner, who will receive more than $250,000. ”Television is rapidly changing, and we’re looking for something different,” says Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Television. ”’Big Brother’ is truly an international event, and we wanted to bring that to CBS.”

In an unprecedented move, CBS plans to air the show at least five nights a week in either 30-minute or hour-long segments throughout the summer, with the possibility of extending the series through the 2000-01 season launch. It will run as a companion to ”Survivor,” CBS’ other reality game show that has contestants playing Robinson Crusoe on a desert isle near Borneo.

And just in case viewers don’t get their fill from the ”Big Brother” telecasts (each episode will be an edited version of what happened the previous day), the series will come with a companion website. Streaming video from the house will be available 24 hours a day.

”Big Brother” comes to CBS care of Endemol Entertainment, the Dutch production company that first launched the program in the Netherlands last year. The hidden-camera broadcast became a huge sensation — its corresponding website received some 52 million hits — and the participants became celebrities. Producers will begin searching for diverse candidates ages twentysomething to fortysomething for the summer launch. It hasn’t been determined where the show will be shot.

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