The Sun Still Rises Over Stage 18. And, Perhaps, Over Me.

BIG BROTHER’s silver anniversary season kicks off tonight, which I suppose I should be at least a little excited about.  Not a lot of anything is premiering these days on broadcast television, or anytime soon, for that matter, that will be immediately capable of getting somewhere close to one percent of adults 18-49 with a television to watch these days, which is as much a lament as it a statement.

The fact that I am actually a former employee of the show makes the fact that I am indifferent, and indeed still a bit emotional about my experience, makes the fact that I am so indifferent all the more poignant,  A good friend of mine, a fellow blogger and media observer who actually considers me a fellow journalist, is a whole lot more excited,  If you’re not yet a fan of THE PROGRAMMING INSIDER and Marc Berman’s outstanding work, you should be, and I’m all but certain he will have a series of articles about the participants and as the next couple of months unfold he and his column’s more passionate fans will likely be predicting who gets eliminated each week and will regularly update their picks.

To whet your appetite just a bit, Zach Seemayer of ET ONLINE published a corporately synergistic preview of what to expect, which I’ll provide a snippet of that I know won’t spoil the level of detail Berman and his fans will likely provide:

The Big Brother Multiverse is the theme for season 25,” Julie explained. “What does that mean? That means the game has turned upside down, anything can happen. Expect the unexpected more than ever… We’ve never had alternate universes like this.”

Taking some design cues from sci-fi franchises, comic books and even artistic surrealism, the new Big Brother Multiverse house is throwing the 16 new houseguests into chaos and a totally unfamiliar new setting.

The new living room — featuring a pneumatic tube that will deliver messages to the houseguests from the producers — is decked out in a classy space theme, complete with wallpaper featuring astronomical constellation maps and telescopes.

Some rooms take the theme of turning the game upside quite literally, with upside down dressers, flower vases, mirrors and more.

It took a crew of 22 people just over eight weeks to design and build all the details and rooms inside the Big Brother house, where the contestants will duke it out for the $750,000 grand prize.

Although, as fans learned last week, this season will feature an amazing twist — the return of three previous fan favorite houseguests: Danielle Reyes, Britney Haynes and Frankie Grande!

“They broke into the house thinking they could change their fate. They feel wronged that they never won Big Brother,” Julie said, explaining the narrative context to this year’s theme. “Well, their plan backfired and the consequence was they created the Big Brother Multiverse.”

“Those three past houseguests are legends. They are three of the most memorable, three of the most clever houseguests we’ve ever had,” Julie shared. “So, when they broke in, they thought they might be able to change their fate. They didn’t change their own fate, they changed the fate of the 16 new houseguests and what they’re in for this summer.”

This fractured Big Brother Multiverse is visually represented in the house itself, with different parts of the house existing in different universes, so to speak, accessible through a lightning bolt-shaped design, designating the boundaries of each universe.

One universe includes the upside down bedroom — where it looks as though you’re walking on the ceiling — while another is a comic book universe, in which all the walls and furniture appear to be cell-shaded drawings colored with old-timey Ben-Day dots, giving it the look and feel of a 1950s pulp comic (or a Roy Lichtenstein painting).

Julie’s a fan, let me assure you.  As the sole person with her surname who is still welcomed around the network, her association with the show actually predated her official marriage to CBS’ former chairman.  As the face of a show that became popular because of its early internet feeds and NSFW brand extensions on Showtime that often featured oversexed house guests hooking up despite whatever existing legal and/or moral commitments they may have had to significant others before settling in for an extended stay on a converted soundstage in the heart of the San Fernando Valley during the hottest months of the year, let’s just say her popularity soared with the show’s more rabid fans.  I heard this from several folks who had worked with her over the years, people I got to know when I got to experience the life of a production associate during the most trying times that they had ever experienced.
I reported to Stage 18 on the (at the time) CBS Radford lot nightly, to the relief of my alarmed roommate who honestly couldn’t grasp the fact that the majority of the world was working from home, as was she, and was seemingly disgusted by my presence during the day.  I was grateful to actually have any work at all, and if not for the direct connection of a friend’s in-demand daughter and the respect she has in the production field, I wouldn’t have even been considered.  But as I’ve continued to insist, who you know matters more than any link or prayer ever will, and thanks to her I was hired over the phone, just as my prior life was coming to an end.
It wasn’t the most challenging work,  The season I worked on was a season of All-Stars, all alumnae of prior seasons’, and it was made clear to me that the likelihood of hookups was minimal.  These were wily game players who were there for the money ($500,000 to the winner, which this season is now $750,000) and, more significantly to them, the impact the exposure would give them that would enhance their social media status and earnings potential.  My task was simple–monitor the feeds from the various rooms of the house as the night wound down, and simply make sure nothing too explicit or controversial was said.  Because most of the real world was in their own actual lockdown, and the few that were outside were protesting against the injustices that were being inflicted on the likes of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and Jacob Blake.  The producers were far more concerned with anyone uttering a racial slur than the sight of their bare ass.
So I donned headphones and shared a socially distanced trailer with some actual production pros, some incredibly nice women who had worked on other reality series, primarily on location, which were shut down by the pandemic.  They taught me the nuances of the bail out buttons and how to navigate the lot.  The lot itself was in constant flux and disarray as the network attempted to adjust to the ongoing edicted protocol mandates which they diligently policed.  There was no crafty table; there was a cafeteria-like trailer where you ordered your meals from masked servers who were urged to communicate exclusively by pointing.  At one point we were allowed to eat in an air conditioned area, socially distanced of course, but soon that was outlawed.  You had to navigate your trips to the production offices via one-way hallways and alternate passages that took us up and down catwalks that surrounded that area and the production soundstage.   Every Monday morning I drove to the lot for a private but mandated rapid PCR test that I needed to have received a negative test result from in order to be able to work.  Every time I drove onto the lot a team of protocol associates did further temperature checks and culture swabs.   The sitcoms and talk shows that otherwise occupied the lot were, of course, shut down.  A skeleton crew of newsroom personnel from the local stations were the only other people besides our staff that were onsite–the anchors, of course, were doing their work from home.  The BIG BROTHER executives were mostly working from home,   Julie only showed up for the taped eliminations on Thursday afternoons, maintaining an exaggerated 20 foot social distancing at the network’s mandate from anyone besides her publicist.  We knew that because we were ordered to keep our distance from the Bentley SUV that was allowed to park directly next to the soundstage.
It was dystopian.  Eerie.  But it was a soundstage on a lot brimming with history.  The food was sometimes even edible.  And I actually developed bonds with my colleagues, eager to hear my war stories as they told me about their world travels and their relationships.  We’d watch the sun rise over the stage as we’d watch for signs of life among the houseguests on our monitors.  Most slept in.  The later hours of my overnight shift were fairly quiet.  I got paid on time.  And my perturbed housemate was actually beginning to treat me a bit nicer.  Didn’t stop her from creating a scene that resulted in me reporting late one day, which gave me one strike from my extremely militaristic supervisor, with nary an apology.  But when someone is otherwise saving your entire existence, at least I’m forgiving.
As the show settled into its pace, my friend Berman was eagerly texting me wanting to know whatever dirt I was open to giving him.  I had no access to the contestants, of course.  He actually had developed connections with some of them while covering the show during previous summers’ press tours; he provided me with insights that I was eager to share with my colleagues.  We couldn’t help but get a little invested.  The best I could offer him was even the episodes that were called BIG BROTHER LIVE were indeed not live that year; again, pandemic protocols.
Then…I made the fatal error of allowing myself to react to some angry texts I was getting from someone triggering.  I took my midnight break in the parking lot, retreated to my car, and let out some primal screams in frustration.  Right in front of a CBS security officer, who I think was more upset by the sight of my open unmasked mouth with the window down that he was the gutteral sounds of emotional trauma I was uttering.  I was inexplicably ordered to leave immediately against my protests. I drove off in a huff, narrowly avoiding being side-swiped by a Ferrari that was barreling into the parking lot in a careening, wild way as I was exiting.
That turned out to be my only near-communication with the show’s executive producer Rich Meehan.  Because I assure you that no newsroom associate or production lackey could afford a ride like that.
Several days later, since I had already had a strike against me, I learned the hard way that there is zero tolerance among production associates, especailly ones who were actually screamed at because they were heading in the other direction while a $500,000 coupe that didn’t expect traffic in the other direction whizzed by.   Ironically, I was evicted from BIG BROTHER long before many people who exhibited far worse behavior were.  And as my time at home grew, the desire to evict me from my actual residence grew greater.  I won’t burden you with that story, frankly, that battle is far more triggering and still causes me extremely painful memories.  Let’s just say I loved seeing the sun rise there even more than I did seeing it rise over Stage 18.
So I’m sure my friend Berman and perhaps some of you will be watching, and, frankly, given the options, even among some of my favorite baseball teams, I expect they’ll be a lot of default viewing that will contribute.  I do take some pride that during my brief association with BIG BROTHER the show never failed to be the most-viewed program in America in any medium among target advertisers, and by my calculations made the network hundreds of millions of dollars over the year.  Much like this year, my pandemic-impacted season was delayed to a slightly later arc that took it deep into the fall, when ratings potential was slightly higher thanks to seasonal usage level fluctuations.  Maybe by then, I might have the stomach to check in.  That multiverse maleover does sound kinda cool.
Keep me posted, will you?  I’m off in search of a decent sunrise, and a good reason to want to see one.  Memories of the ones I have from that summer sometimes bring me to the point where such a reason isn’t within immediate grasp.  And it has scant little to do with COVID or riots.
Until next time…

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