It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Big Brother season is upon us! Season 18 (!) of the CBS reality show returns on Wednesday for another summer of messy backyard competitions, scheming, screaming fights, and showmances. While producers have yet to reveal the big twist for this season, fans can take comfort in knowing that two of their favorites will be returning: Don Wollman, a.k.a. the voice of “Big Brother” inside the house, and Clayton Halsey, the man behind those “tonight on Biiiiiig Brother!” promos. While the duo never appear on screen, they’re a vital part of the Big Brother experience — both for the houseguests and viewers. (In addition to lending their voices to Big Brother, Wollman serves as a producer and Halsey works as an editor on the show.) Yahoo TV grilled the unseen (and unsung) Big Brother heroes about their work on the summer hit.
Related: ‘Big Brother’: Meet the Cast
How did you become the voices of Big Brother?
DW: Season 1 there was no “voice.” Various producers were giving messages into the house. And when [executive producers] Allison [Grodner] and Arnold [Shapiro] took over on Season 2, they decided they would rather have the same statement made all the time, so that the language is always the same for the houseguests. Somebody just said to me, “Hey would you like to do that?” I said, “Oh, ok.”
Don Wollman, the voice of “Big Brother” inside the house
CH: I had been editing the show since Season 3, and I did the voice for two other shows that Allison did — one called Brat Camp and one called The Family. At the beginning of Season 6 she said to me, “You know what? I think you should be the voice of Big Brother as well.” And I said, “Okay!” The rest is history.
When people find out you’re one of the Big Brother voices, do they ever ask you to record their voicemail or anything like that?
CH: Yes, that’s happened a few times. I’ve also run into superfans who want me to do the “Biiiiiig Brother” thing.
DW: I’ve had exactly the same experience, particularly people who are the feeders [a.k.a. Big Brother fans who watch the live feed]. Those are the people who really hear my voice. They ask me to say, “Please go to the Diary Room.” Yeah, sure, I can do that. They get a big kick out of it, and I’m sure they same thing happens with Clayton.
Clayton, how did the now-classic “Biiiiiiiiiig Broooother” flourish in those “previously on”/”tonight on” promos come about?
CH: In the beginning, I can’t remember the guy’s name who we took over for, but it was a much more mellow read. Allison wanted a bigger read. It’s grown over the years. It changes every season a little bit, the intonation of it… I try to sound excited without being cheesy.
Clayton Halsey, who edits and does the voice-overs for all Big Brother promos
DW: You have to understand what Clayton does. Clayton is telling a story. For me, I’m just reading little messages that get played back off a machine. But Clayton is telling a story, and the story is different each week. He’s doing this component that our “previously on” package. And he also edits it, which is a really unusual thing. So he is much more invested in what he is reading than most voice-over people are because he’s already edited that piece. He’s now intimately familiar with it. Then he gives that read because he’s telling the story that he’s just built.
Don, what is the most challenging part of getting people to go to the Diary Room? Sometimes it seems like you have to ask repeatedly.
DW: It’s more a function of time of day, generally. It’s really kind of difficult to get them in the morning. They tend to stay up very late. Sometimes they stay up all night. When we have to get them in for a sound bite or something, and maybe it’s eight or nine in the morning, it takes a bit to get them moving. Also, the farther we go along in the season, they seem to have this recognition that when they’re in the Diary Room, they want to look a little better than normal. So they’ll spend a little bit more time primping in front of the mirror, both men and women, before they come in. “I need a couple more minutes, I got to do something with my hair!” It’s amazing to me that people actually think that I’m there all the time.
CH: When you speak into the house, it’s pre-recorded.
DW: Virtually everything thing is pre-recorded. Every now and again, like a couple times a season, one of the producers will ask me to go in. They want something said to the house in a specific way, and I’ll do that. But generally speaking, everything is a pre-record.
Hear Don scold the houseguests here:
Oh, I see. So if you’re trying to get a houseguest to the Diary Room at 8 a.m., someone in the control room is just repeatedly playing the recording of you saying, “Please come to the Diary Room.”
Don: That’s correct. Now, a funny thing happened at the end of last season. After the show was over, I was talking to a couple of the houseguests, and they were saying to me, “You know, sometimes when you call my name, you’re angry. Other times you’re very nice. Other times you’re kind of funny.” The truth of the matter is: I do one recording, one time. I don’t know what they were thinking. It’s the same, “Kristen, please come to the diary room” all season long. They thought, “Oh no, you recorded it several different ways.” No, I didn’t!
Clayton, what’s your favorite time of the season to do the “previously on?” Is it early on? Is it toward the end when things are getting really competitive?
CH: I suppose the big, super “previously on” at the end is my favorite because it denotes the season is coming to an end.
DW: This ain’t an easy show.
CH: It’s a very different reality show from any that’s been made, with three shows a week and all that. I’ve always likened it to a freight train. Right now, we’re in mock week, which is getting the freight train going. It takes a while to get the freight train up to speed. But once it’s up to speed, there’s no stopping it. Just hold on for the ride, pretty much.
Do either of you do other Big Brother voices? Our favorite is Otev.
CH: I was Otev in the past. A couple seasons ago, they started going through more prominent celebrities.
DW: I don’t do anything other than the voices that go into the house.
Tell me the truth: is either one of you the Zingbot?
DW: No… The person who is in the suit is not the same person who does the voice.
CH: Actually, I think there’s been two or three.
Do you have a favorite player of all time?
CH: I’ve never had that question before. That’s a good one. No. I don’t really… Each season is really different. Doctor Will was such an interesting character and he was a great player. And Dan easily was a very clever player. Danielle Reyes, back on season 3, who did not win, but she was a terrific player. Each season presents a new challenge for everybody so it’s really hard to pick one person out and say that’s my favorite.
DW: We’re always watching the show during the day while we’re doing our work. You really become invested in it. There’s a point in time during the season where I start dreaming about the show, then I know I’m really invested.
The season premiere is tomorrow. Is there anything you can tease for the new season?
DW: I will say this The two hour premiere is on the 22nd, and then the second night one-hour is really going to be good. We’ve got a lot of interesting things we’re doing this year. I think the viewers are really going to be delighted because we’re pushing the envelope this year.
Season 18 of Big Brother premieres Wednesday, June 22, at 8 p.m. on CBS