It has been 20 years since America started its Big Brother human experiment, putting people under the microscope for everyone to watch. Back on July 5, 2000, the boys of ‘NSync were saying "Bye, Bye, Bye" and Kirsten Dunst was getting ready to Bring It On, meanwhile 10 complete strangers had already been brought to a secluded house on the CBS lot. There to meet them was Julie Chen-Moonves, who recently met with Yahoo Entertainment to discuss the bizarre first season of Big Brother.
Chen-Moonves had been a part of CBS News for years, anchoring shows like CBS This Morning and The Early Show, so hosting a reality show was like entering a whole new world for the journalist. "I remember being nervous and scared, but excited at the same time," Chen-Moonves recalled, adding, "And then after we premiered, I remember reading review after review, after negative review after — and they were all terrible." Big Brother premiered about a month after Survivor, which was an instant hit, so Chen-Moonves felt like there were some big shoes to fill, and apparently, so did the critics.
To be honest, I wasn't good. I didn't feel comfortable, like, it showed.
"They didn't like the show! They didn't like me! They didn't like the house guest! They didn't like the furniture! They didn't like the lighting! Like they were mean," she said emphatically. "And I remember feeling like I got like punched in the gut"
Looking back now, Chen-Moonves admitted that they were right to be critical of her performance. "To be honest, I wasn't good. I didn't feel comfortable, like it showed," she said. "I didn't own it. I didn't know how to be."
Just like Chen-Moonves, the contestants in the house didn't really know how to be either. Season 1 was unlike any other in so many ways. There were no Head of Household or Power of Veto competitions, there wasn't much strategy being used, and America voted people out, not the houseguests. Which meant it really was just people hanging out and talking for 88 straight days! So, to fill the time, Chen-Moonves talked to specialists like Dr. Drew Pinsky, which she thought was a bit much.
"That just felt so overproduced, like stop trying to be such a serious show," said Chen-Moonves. "It should be more fun-loving, like let's not try and break down what Dr. Drew Pinsky, like, you know, the psychology of this person, you know? That stuff kind of feels like, I can't believe we put that out."
We were always looked at as like, you know, the bastard child.
While there were a lot of things different about Season 1, there was one surprising thing that hasn't changed — cameras over the toilet and shower. Chen-Moonves said that they would never broadcast someone doing their business or showering, but there is a good reason for those cameras.
"If two people thought they could go in there and, like, whisper, and we don't know what they're whispering about, and you guys, as viewers on the Internet, don't know what's happening. That defeats the whole, you know, 'Big Brother' mentality," she explained. "So that's why we do it. Not because we're like, perverts," she said with a laugh.
So after 20 years and 21 seasons, Big Brother is still rolling along. But even with all that success, the show has never been nominated for an Emmy, something that used to bother Chen-Moonves until she realized there are more important things than awards.
"We were always looked at as like, you know, the bastard child. So it was like, all right," she said, seemingly coming to terms with never being nominated. "But I'd rather not get nominated ever and still have it renewed every year. You know? Because some of these other shows got a lot of accolades and awards... but they haven't marked a 20-year anniversary."
For more info on Big Brother, go to CBS.com.
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