Summer is over, but for the first time in 18 seasons, Big Brother isn’t going with it. On Sept. 28 at 10 p.m., CBS will premiere Big Brother: Over the Top on the network’s new subscription streaming service, CBS All Access. While the key elements are the same — contestants get locked in a house, host Julie Chen serves as their lifeline/overlord — Over the Top will have some new, digital-friendly features to encourage viewers to stay glued to the weekly episodes and 24/7 live stream. First up, subscribers can choose the 13th houseguest (after subscribing to All Access, of course), and they’ll also play a role in the weekly evictions — and the ultimate winner of $250,000. (Hey, it’s streaming — CBS is saving the $500K prize for broadcast.) Yahoo TV spoke with Big Brother exec producers Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan about the new “safety ceremony,” how they’ll keep the houseguests from sleeping all day, and what to expect with the streamlined, “less complicated” challenges.
How are you holding up? Because two back-to-back seasons has got to be pretty brutal.
Allison Grodner: It’s not easy, that’s for sure — but we’re excited. This is an awesome opportunity to break some new ground here.
When did you find out that this was happening, and how much time did you have to put together Over the Top?
AG: This has been in the works for quite a while, so everything was going on simultaneously with our summer show.
Rich Meehan: We’ve been working — while we were producing the broadcast version we were working on preproduction and development of this version.
We know some details about what’s going to be new this season — viewers can choose the 13th houseguest, and viewers will vote for the winning houseguest — but can you give us a couple other examples of how Over the Top is different?
AG: Well, obviously you just mentioned the biggest thing, and it’s that the audience will be choosing the winner in the end. They will be crowning the winner of Big Brother and [awarding] a quarter million dollar prize. The audience will be very involved with the game, and a lot of that will be revealed specifically in that first week. We can tell you that they will be involved in nominations.
RM: And the eviction vote… We feel like by choosing the winner and adding a cast member and then having a role in nominations and evictions, fans are really going to have a heavy hand in the strategy and making a difference in the game like never before.
AG: You really can be an active participant in changing things up each week if you are a viewer. You can also enjoy it and be a passive viewer as well. There’s all different ways of involving yourself in Big Brother.
We’ve heard some rumblings of something called the “safety ceremony.” Is there anything you can tease about that?
AG: Yeah, it’s a new way of looking at the nominations.
RM: When we started developing this series we kind of looked at it differently than we looked at the broadcast series. [For broadcast], we really focused on, “What are those three hours a week going to look like?” Now on this one, it’s, “What is the live series going to be like?” So the safety ceremony is a play on nomination that plays out over a longer period of time so that people can tune in more often to find out who is safe over the course of a couple days. As opposed to everything happening in one moment at the nomination ceremony, which is over really quickly, this is something that’s going to play out over a couple days — ending with the two people that will be nominated for eviction. So there are more reasons to watch live, more reasons to log on.
I’ve also read something about an incentive to keep the houseguests awake. Is that in any way related to the safety ceremony, or is that its own form of torture?
AG: [Laughs] It shouldn’t be torture. Look, this is a show that’s playing out live to tons of feeds 24 hours, seven days a week. So the show and the format we constructed, it sort of promotes an activity or interaction. And so with that comes a curfew for staying awake, not sleeping — an awake curfew — so they will have hours that they will be staying awake. That is new to this season.
RM: And because this is live, we anticipate there being more access to the yard on a daily basis — whereas on the broadcast version sometimes they would get locked down for four days at a time while we build these big, epic challenges in the backyard, and it kind of can mess their clock up because they’re never outside. We think with them being able to have more access outside, hopefully they can keep a more normal schedule so they are awake when people are watching the feeds and they aren’t sleeping all day.
On Over the Top the competitions and challenges won’t be blacked out on the live feeds as they are on the feeds for the broadcast show. How does that affect the comps you’ll be doing on OTT?
RM: Because everything is live you know things can play out over a longer period of time, so we can have competitions that you can watch hour by hour. And because [the competitions] are live, when we develop those challenges they have to be able to stand on their own and have the Head of Household be able to host, so they’re going to be less complicated. They’re going to play out longer and they’re going to be different. I think we have a lot of fan favorites that we play in the broadcast show that are going to just be for that show, and this is going to have a whole new crop of challenges.
How did the all-digital, more interactive premise affect what you looked for when you were casting the houseguests?
AG: You know, we were still looking for a diverse group of people from personalities, backgrounds, and point of views — that kind of thing that we always look for.
RM: With Big Brother: Over the Top, it may not be 99 days but it’s 65 days, and that’s a long period of time — so what we’ve always looked for is people that we knew could be interesting and can have layers and be entertaining for a long period of time.
As we mentioned before, viewers can choose the 13th houseguest — and their choices are Jozea (BB 18) and Jason (BB 17). How did you guys settle on those two?
AG: So, it’s called Big Brother: Over the Top, and so we were looking for two standout personalities that were gone early in the game that didn’t get to jury, quite, from recent seasons… They are over-the-top personalities who didn’t stay too long to amass a big [fan following] like Nicole or Victor or someone like that. It’ll be interesting to see them navigate all of this again.
When it comes to the Big Brother house, you didn’t have as much time as you normally do to renovate it, give it a new theme, and all of that. How did you handle the quick turnaround?
AG: There are some things that are different and some things that are the same because it’s such a short period of time. So it definitely will have its own feel in some major spaces of the house, but it is sort of a new incarnation of our summer house.
As a germophobe, I have to ask if you were able to give the house a proper, thorough cleaning given the back-to-back seasons?
AG: I will assure you that we did the same amount of cleaning that we do every year. We definitely came in and scrubbed it from top to bottom. There are new linens, new sheets, new mattress covers, all of that. The floors were scrubbed, [new] pots and pans, all of that. So yes, rest assured we are not putting our next group of houseguests in any kind of germ danger.
Big Brother: Over the Top premieres Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 10 p.m. on CBS All Access.