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''Big Brother''

”Big Brother” — The producers tell all about CBS’ Orwellian new reality show

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Bring us your tired (of living in obscurity), your hungry (for nonstop media attention), your poor (schmoes who consent to living 24-7 under 7-Eleven-style surveillance cameras).

After clogging its way into Dutch TV history and blitzkrieging through Germany, Big Brother — the reality show that throws 10 total strangers into a nationally televised fishbowl, and asks viewers to reel one out every two weeks until a single $500,000-enriched survivor is left standing — has finally immigrated to our brave new world. And while its first week of shows on CBS (it airs five nights a week) has garnered mixed reviews and seesawing Nielsens, its premiere did score higher ratings than Survivor‘s debut while the audience for its AOL webcast has quadrupled. This intrepid reporter spent two days in the Big Brother house prior to its debut, and was left pondering these questions.

Is there any situation — say if the President is assassinated or if a family member takes ill — in which you would give the houseguests info about the outside world?

”I think if the President is assassinated, we would probably not tell them, because it doesn’t really have any direct bearing on their health or safety,” says Ross. As far as a sick loved one goes, each houseguest designated somebody as a (dare we say) lifeline to the outside world. If the designee informs CBS that a relative has taken ill, the producers will dutifully pass on that news. Sums up Paul Romer, executive producer and cocreator of BB: ”I want to make sure that we’re never in a position afterward where they say, ‘Oh, if you only had told me this, I would have left the house.”’ (Still, no one’s allowed back in the house once they step outside — no matter what the reason.)

Hey, doesn’t the divine order of reality TV dictate that there should have been at least one gay person chosen for the Big Brother clan?

Although BB’s all-hetero cast is indeed bucking a longstanding tradition (dating back to 1973’s An American Family, through nearly every season of MTV’s The Real World, and currently on CBS’ Survivor), it wasn’t for lack of trying. ”We wanted to have a gay person in the house,” says BB exec producer Douglas Ross. ”But we all made the agreement before we started casting that we were going to pick the people who during the audition process really were the most interesting.”

What happens to all the unused footage — especially the shower-based stuff?

”The moment the show is over, we only keep the tapes of the shows we broadcast and we will erase all other tapes,” says Romer. Does that mean there won’t be a ”Too Hot for TV” Big Brother video? ”No. We are responsible for the lives of the 10 people in the house — they have to be able to live their own lives again in normal society.”

Who’s the unlucky slob who monitors the toilet cam?

Actually, the whole crew gets the honor. ”The bathroom camera is up on our wall of 28 [monitors],” says Ross. ”The people in the control room see what’s going on, but it’s not interesting or fun to watch people go to the bathroom at all, so I think you just don’t look at it.”

Please tell me you’re going to make them eat rats.

”We’re not going to have them eat rats,” says Ross. ”We talked about doing some sort of [challenge] with a gerbil or hamster — training them in the cage sort of thing, but we decided it was too big a risk in case one got out and gnawed on the cables behind the walls.”