Desmond needs media rivals to help revive interest, says Dan Wootton.
Just a few years ago, celebrity magazine and tabloid newspaper editors would breathe a big sigh of relief when the annual Big Brother freak show rolled into town on Channel 4.
The slow summer news days were supplemented with page after page of Nadia Almada, Nikki Graeme, Brian Belo and the like. Household names were created, quite literally, overnight.
Then the 2007 Jade Goody race row happened, plummeting ratings led to dwindling coverage, and the buzz around Endemol’s international cash cow was finally gone in the UK.
The acres of coverage were quickly redirected to bigger hits such as The X Factor, The Apprentice and, over the past 12 months, The Only Way Is Essex.
So Channel 5 and Endemol are now faced with one of the toughest questions in broadcasting: how to resurrect a TV franchise most of the audience believes is dead and buried.
But if anyone can do it, you would have to back Richard Desmond and his Channel 5 boss Jeff Ford.
The Express Group owner is already passionately devoting frenzied coverage to the upcoming celebrity launch of BB on Channel 5 in his magazines and newspapers, notably OK! and the Daily Star.
I’m told he’s signed popular tabloid figures Kerry Katona (what would this woman do without reality TV?), Jedward (for a cool £1m) and Amy Childs (she quit low-paying ITV2 hit TOWIE for the show out of loyalty to Desmond).
Negotiations with marquee American names Charlie Sheen, Mike Tyson and Pamela Anderson are not proving quite so easy.
Nevertheless, the rumoured contestants and the signing of BB’s ‘ultimate housemate’ Brian Dowling as Davina McCall’s presenting replacement provide a decent enough start.
The better the talent, the harder it will be for Desmond’s media rivals to ignore the series as they would like to do. It will also encourage notoriously fickle reality fans to sample Channel 5’s first-night coverage.
But the key for producers is assuring a core audience sticks with the series, especially when the celebrity version ends and mere mortals take over the house in Elstree.
I’ve already heard mumblings that the huge talent costs mean significant cuts to the series’ production budget. Big Brother fans are savvy and won’t accept an obviously cheaper version of the C4 show.
I also question the wisdom of dropping the hugely popular BB spin-offs, Little Brother and Big Mouth, in favour of one new show, Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, and failing to commit to fans’ favourite the live internet feed.
One thing I’m certain about is that to create buzz and find the next Jade or Brian, BB needs a certain degree of buy-in from the rest of the media, especially the Express Group’s newspaper and magazine rivals.
Desmond has wildly promoted the winner of last year’s show, Josie Gibson, in print and on the telly, but I would say 90% of the country has never heard of her.
Big Brother only works when it’s the subject of water-cooler conversation the next day in the office. And the show needs to create that in the first few weeks or risk irrelevance.
➤ Dan Wootton is a British Press Award-winning showbiz journalist and commentator who tweets @danwootton