Big Brother and The Glass House; A Comparison

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  • Added “The Glass House” ‘ABC’s The View’ video
  • Corrected spelling mistakes

The term “Big Brother” comes from George Orwells’ novel ‘1984‘ based on a society monitored under complete surveillance. The original idea for Big Brother as a TV show was 24/7 coverage of people in a House and started with the simple idea of Housemates evicted one at a time, one per week, as the result of whoever had the most number of votes from the public. Big Brother airs a round-up of the best action in a daily show, and also has a magazine spin-off show with audience interaction and a panel of guests to digest and discuss the show. The Big Brother format has dramatically changed since its inception in 2000 and now has multiple evictions on the same night, Housemates voted in as well as out, Vote To Save instead of Vote To Evict, a Live Feed that was reduced and then axed altogether, etc. As such, the format of the show exists in a modified fashion.

The Glass House, although on appearance seems similar, is quite different. The premise is a reality show with HouseGuests in a House made of glass (?) who interact with the public via huge screens in the House. The public ask questions with multiple-choice answers and the HouseGuests, who compete against each other in teams, interact by answering those questions with various actions, such as moving to different parts of the House. HouseGuests answers affects their teams and then become the reasons for being ejected from The Glass House. The show is reported to have a Live Feed with streaming video accessible via the internet (?), but not 24/7. It’s alleged it will only stream up to 7 hours. Shows are then cut from all the footage over a set period (not necessarily 24 hours) and aired as a TV show once per week. It isn’t a 24 hour turn-around, like Big Brother.

The two shows are similar. Considering they are both Reality TV shows it’s common sense that their set-ups and operations would be similar. I imagine the design and technical set-up for both will be almost exactly the same. But there are also vast differences:

Big Brother

  • Remote cameras
  • One-way mirrors with camera crews behind the glass
  • Close-ups with full manual camera control (depth of field, etc)
  • 24/7 coverage for 12 weeks (3 weeks Celebrity version)
  • DAILY highlights shows (More than 60 shows over a 9 week series!)
  • Spin-off magazine show
  • Tasks set by BIG BROTHER
  • Nominations come about by Housemates voting against each other
  • The Public vote for Housemates who are put up for nomination

The Glass House

  • Fixed cameras
  • NO one-way mirrors or camera crews behind glass
  • 24/5 coverage
  • Group shots only
  • Tasks set by the PUBLIC
  • WEEKLY highlights show
  • TEN episodes in total
  • NO spin-off show
  • Nominations come about through the results of HouseGuests interactions with the public
  • HouseGuests effectively put themselves up for Ejection through their interactions with the public

The Big Brother House works with a series of moveable remote ‘hot head’ cameras, capable of 360 degree coverage and night vision. This looks to be the only way The Glass House operates. What makes Big Brother different is that it also uses several dozen one-way mirrored windows in every room which allow an army of camera operators to use much better quality HD cameras that can go from an incredible wide shot of an entire room and crash right in to a teardrop on the face of a Housemate who’s on the other side of the House. These cameras allow tiny focus detail and control and are of far superior quality to the remote cameras. The Glass House does not have one-way mirrored windows, and uses remote cameras only, and appears to use a lot of group shots and no real close-up shots at all. Also, The Glass House seemingly runs 24/5 and not 24/7. After five days the HouseGuests are individually holed up in a hotel over the weekend (?) before going back in again. This does not happen on Big Brother. Nor is there any form of contact with the outside world on Big Brother unless under extreme circumstances, or part of a Task. The ejection of HouseGuests from The Glass House is entirely down to their own actions as responded to by public interaction.

It’s very likely that the differences between the two shows would give very different results for their respective participants.

It was put to a U.S. District Judge in an 11-page document that The Glass House is violating copyright laws and that trade secrets are being shared as some 19 crew members working on The Glass House had previously worked on Big Brother USA. Part of ABC’s defence was that production techniques couldn’t be considered intellectual property and therefore cannot be copyrighted.

But the sharing of staff across projects is common. Freelancers who work for the BBC also work at Sky, ITV and Channel 4. Freelancers who work on Britains Got Talent also work on The X-Factor, Got To DanceThe VoiceBig Brother, I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, etc. It’s how the industry works.

The outcome is, so far, predictable. The Judge in the case agreed that although “CBS [sought] to protect the idea of a show of contestants in a house where cameras are running“, his answer was “you can’t copyright that“. CBS suggested a copyright holding for Big Brother with regards to the way the show was produced. ABC stated in its defence of The Glass House that “processes and techniques [are] already well known to everyone who has ever worked in reality television“. The Judge seemed to agree, stating “generic reality show elements” cannot be protected under copyright law.

A Temporary Restraining Order to halt the airing of  The Glass House in the USA was denied. The show aired in America on June 18th 2012. However, the court case continued. But not before a few episodes of The Glass House were edited and shown to the public.

What does the future hold for ABC airing The Glass House as an entire series?

More importantly, will the outcome of the court case between ABC and CBS have any impact on other reality shows?

We’ll have to wait and see…

One thing I DO know is if it comes to the UK, it will become another phenomenon. And I’d love to be part of it!

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