Big Brother 18 premieres tonight and I can boldly predict a millennial will be the winner.
That’s because 94 percent of the 2016 cast are millennials. (Note: Glenn, 50, was the first housemate evicted in the second episode, leaving the cast 100 percent millennials after the first competition).
So buckle in viewers for yet another one-dimensional season. We deserve better.
My obsession with Big Brother started a dozen years ago when I was anchoring the news in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A local man, Conway mortician Marvin Latimer, had been cast for the fifth season of the popular CBS show. It was my job to keep track of Marvin and offer occasional updates on his progress.
Big Brother, for those that don’t know, features fourteen to sixteen people locked inside a house for the summer. If they can outplay the others, and survive until the very end, they win $500,000. Not a bad summer income if you can pull it off.
What appealed to me most about the show was how housemates navigated the actual game. I immediately related the format to politics, the sheer amount of schmoozing, calculating, manipulating and lying that was necessary to survive week after week. All in the name of a big cash prize.
Yup, just like having a Front Row Seat at the Circus!
The edited version of what’s been happening in the house can make occasional viewers think the game is frivolous. But when you become a super fan you realize Big Brother is a supreme mental and strategy game designed to test a persons skill in dealing with various personalities in which they may normally not get along. It’s such a great concept that a version of the game is played and aired on television in over fifty countries.
Marvin was 36 when he was cast for Big Brother 5. In fact, six of the fourteen players that year were in their 30’s and 40’s. That’s about half of the house. And while there were plenty of shenanigans during the summer, there was also a grown up feel that separated it from other reality shows like MTV’s Real World.
After his housemates split into two warring camps, Marvin was especially fun to watch as he treated both sides of the house with an equal amount of amusement and contempt. It was great television. Marvin did his own thing, and the viewers loved it. He was loud and witty in a house with many strong personalities.
Despite his refusal to take a side, Marvin lasted until the 9th eviction of the season, becoming the fourth member of the jury. (By the way, Drew Daniel, an Ohio native and a Buckeye, won the season).
By the time the wrap party in Hollywood finished, and Marvin landed back in South Carolina, I was absolutely hooked on the show and met him at the airport for an interview.
“You’ve got cameras in the shower, cameras in the lavatory, so you reach a point where you’re so conscious of what’s going on because the cameras are there all the time,” he explained to me. “But after awhile you get to the point where it’s like ‘okay, I know the cameras are there but I don’t care anymore.'”
It was clear that in Big Brother 5, personality and background, not youth, were the key ingredients in casting the show.
“I did my own thing,” said Marvin. “When I was casting for the show I had to do a little spiel. I’m a big Samuel L. Jackson fan, as you might have guessed, so I did a part of Pulp Fiction and the producer was like ‘I love him, he won’t make it a week!'”
But he went a lot deeper into the season than anyone expected.
Now twelve years later, Marvin, who hosts the Marvin Show, is on a cruise ship in Florida with Big Brother 8 winner “Evel” Dick Donato (who was 44 when he won) preparing to watch the premiere with fans tonight. But Latimer’s opinion of the show, like many non-millennials, has dropped a lot in recent years.
“I’m not a huge fan of show, but I watch a few episodes every season for commentary for a podcast,” Marvin told me yesterday. “Yes, the cast is way younger now. It’s for the millennials, and has no variety like it used to have. They seem to be targeting that core instead of appealing to everyone. So, if a rising star gets voted out, they have 14 more just like him.”
I asked Marvin how much responsibility Big Brother casting must take in this obvious growing issue of age discrimination.
“I’ve had quite a few talks with insiders, and after the cast is set you have what you have,” said Marvin. “If they suck, there’s not much you can do as far as spicing things up. So it’s all in the casting.”
Marvin is exactly right. Last year, CBS CEO Les Moonves (who is the husband of Big Brother host Julie Chen) was blunt when he admitted to NYMag, “This wasn’t a great year for casting on Big Brother.”
But even a comment like that from the boss didn’t change the age demographic of the house this season one bit. Why?
Let me offer you this little secret about television: The key demographic for the sales department at the networks, and any local TV affiliate, are millennials. Advertisers love them most. But unfortunately for the networks, that age group is watching TV less and less.
“They are more concerned with keeping their core audience than building a bigger audience,” said Marvin. “And with the way TV is splintered now with choices like Netflix, Amazon, DVD On Demand, the competition is triple what it was when I was on the show. So, it’s really hard to have another American Idol now.”
Thus network programming, in the increasingly competitive multi media world, is skewing younger. And that is making Big Brother really boring.
This is a mega election year with one of the zaniest campaigns in American history. There is ongoing concern about ISIS, the Zika virus and our economy. Frankly this would have been the year to bring some age and experience into the house, to liven up the conversations and make them more meaningful. Season 10, with Jerry and Renny discussing the world, comes to mind.
Sadly, there is obviously a new mandate on casting to keep the age of the house young.
And that discrimination means all longtime Big Brother super fans lose.