Big Brother or Beverly Hills: Success or Disaster?


All this discussion about television has really gotten me thinking about the formulas for success or failure of revamped TV shows.  Success stories aren’t as hard to find as you might think.  The first to come to mind is the Big Brother series.

Originally developed by Endemol in the Netherlands in 1999 it was an instant success.  A British version was developed in 2000 that lasted right up until 2010, becoming one of the most successful shows in British history.  There have been several global incarnations of the show, including a US series that is still running with high ratings.  How did this show break the failure formula, and become such a hit?

In the British series, the rules of Big Brother are very strict, with the most fundamental rule being that Housemates may not speak of nominations or evictions at any time.  The series is not about scheming and plotting to get rid of people from the house, but more about the development of relationships between Housemates.  However, the American series is the exact opposite.  It’s about competition and alliances, following well-laid plans to be rid of enemies.

The only commonalities between the shows are the premise and name.  Big Brother USA was not trying to reproduce a show, but actually create something new.  Maybe this tactic could have been used when developing Skins for North America?  Rather than trying to make a replica of the series, take the premise of the show and build on that.

It’s not just imports that are suffering.  The remake failure trend goes further.  Does anyone remember the tragic remake of Beverly Hills: 90210?  Was it really necessary to bring back the base storyline of a brother and sister and their trials and tribulations in Beverly Hills? Or bringing back characters from a show 10 years retired?  The story would likely have thrived if it had simply been teens facing problems at West Beverly High.  Let’s contrast this particular failure with the new Degrassi series.  Although former characters were brought into the story line, they were not the focus of the main plot and most importantly, they were never used as a promotional tool.  A new cast was created to actually connect with the new target audience. 

The titles of these news shows often allude to a “next generation” or a “new class” and that’s really what it comes down to.  If a series is going to be remade, the core ingredients that made the original a success have to be refashioned to appeal to a completely different audience.