Thursday’s launch show (peak: 5.6m viewers) has been splashed all over the net as the show’s most watched non sporting programme ever, and Saturday’s highlight show reached 2.7m, a feat unmatched by the franchise in its old home since 2008.
Strategically the show’s been placed well (in conjunction with hit US property ‘The Bachelor’), and casting decisions have in many cases been golden. There’s Sally of course, but it doesn’t end there. The fantastically surreal addition of Desmond’s old pal Mohammed Al Fayed to the Egyptian task showed a total understanding of what translates into BB gold.
But that’s just it- BB gold comes about when producers and housemates alike recognise that BB is nothing more or less than a total freakshow, tapping in to exactly the same national interests as the C4 docusoaps Mitchell and Webb mocked with their ‘boy with an arse for a face’ sketch.
Any smart media observer could spot the increased hunger for freaks in the remarkable success of Jedward, who’ve sold a line and a brand off no tangile success other than their total insanity as a concept. This is why it’s taken the show’s celebrity version to revitalise interest in the property. It’s much easier to generate hype with familiar freaks, not to mention ones whose quirks are liable to have real-world implications when exposed.
In the freak shows of Victorian England, freaks were famously not revealed until after money had changed hands to increase their shock factor. However, this was less a simple manipulation of the element of surprise than a very modern prioritisation of the value of image.
These freaks effectively became the image painted for them by publicity material in the run up to the show, their often mediocre deformities were only enhanced as a result. By selecting freaks with ready-made audiences, producers can be sure that their image potential will translate into capital when they are unleashed on a receptive audience.
They can also be relatively sure of a rounded PR impact. Broadsheet and tabloid coverage was ensured because there was always going to be something for everyone in a show featuring an offer by Amy Childs to vajazzle the wife of a leading conservative politician. Indeed, the incident was practically a concise summary of modern Britain.
The question remains of whether this success can be sustained in the forthcoming regular series, set to film later this year. No human being can generate requisite levels of freakishness without a properly functionng media hype machine twisting their image into improbable shapes and marvellous contortions (well, with the possible exception of bequiffed midwich cuckoos Jedward). The publicity impact of the regular series will depend far more upon the brand image of the show as a whole than on cast member image, and this in turn will depend on the creativity and all-round fever pitch of the current series, and on channel 5 convincing viewers that it has indeed ‘resurrected’ a property channel 4 are continuing to paint as ‘dead’.
So as the ringleaders don their top hats and begin prodding their hapless charges into capering before a grinning audience, we seriously need to question whether these ‘celebs’ have any idea whatsoever what they’re getting into. Divorce, sex, violence, even total image meltdown- all will be used to full effect by channel 5 producers well aware that they’ve got a lot to prove.
So long as they don’t have another Shilpa Shetty-gate on their hands, the current cast are liable to suffer a great deal more than most of their predecessors. We’re seeing the first example of this with the Sally Bercow affair. Once Desmond’s Daily Express threw its weight behind the story, viewing figures were sure to be boosted. Consequently, other papers were forced to take stories emerging from the show seriously- 5.9m people can’t be wrong, or at least can’t be ignored. The whole Bercow story has now reached critical mass with claims over the weekend that the couple’s marriage and John’s career are both hanging by a thread.
Generating positive personal publicity would allow a cast member to leave with their own brand enhanced. Generating negative personal publicity within the loosest boundaries of taste will enhance- has already enhanced- the mad, bad brand of the show as a whole, and that’s exactly what Desmond and co. are looking for.