Channel 4 to drop 'Celebrity Big Brother' from 2008 schedules
This year's Celebrity Big Brother attracted the sort of attention Channel 4 could have done without, provoking an outcry over the alleged racist bullying of housemate Shilpa Shetty. Now, Channel 4 has announced that it is axing the show for 2008, to make way for new untried and untested programmes.
The move is part of a wider decision by the channel to cancel a raft of familiar series including You Are What You Eat, Brat Camp and It's Me Or The Dog. Celebrity Big Brother is one of the channel's best performing shows, but Channel 4 said that following its notoriety this year, it was time to rest the format.
This will free up 30 hours of airtime between 9pm and 10pm in January. To pay for the new programmes that will fill this slot, Channel 4 spent £10m less than it otherwise would have done on acquiring new US television shows at the annual industry sales fair in Los Angeles this year.
One of the programmes that will replace Celebrity Big Brother is The Family, an update on Paul Watson's classic fly on the wall documentary of 30 years ago, which will follow an ordinary British family as they go about their everyday lives.
So great is the channel's determination to introduce innovative programming, however, that many of the shows that will fill the slot have not even been commissioned yet.
This year, a record 54,000 viewers complained over the treatment of the Indian Celebrity Big Brother contestant Shilpa Shetty by three of her fellow housemates: Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O'Meara. The row grew into an international crisis, which saw both the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the Indian government commenting on the affair, while Ofcom, the media regulator, ruled that Channel 4 had been guilty of "serious editorial misjudgements".
But Channel 4 has not abandoned Big Brother altogether. Its contract with the show's maker, Endemol, lasts until 2010, and it will continue to show Big Brother in the summer months, as well as developing the strand on its digital youth channel E4 early next year.
Julian Bellamy, Channel 4's head of programmes, said: "I think Big Brother is a brilliant show and I'm sure the format will benefit from having a little breathing space. When faced with the choice between a proven commercial hit and taking risks with the new and untried this January, we chose the latter. This is a public service decision, an investment in the future, which I don't believe any other commercial broadcaster would make."
In a speech to the Edinburgh International Television Festival yesterday, Kevin Lygo, Channel 4's director of television and content, also criticised the BBC for being "blander than it should be", and for failing to seize the agenda and instead making programmes such as Griff Rhys Jones's Mountain on BBC1 and Coast on BBC2.
"We all know what I mean. The One Show - every night - the increasing number of soapy dramas. Casualty, Holby City, Holby Blue, Waterloo Road and the real possibility of a fifth episode of EastEnders and the factual output dominated by soft focuses, mountains, coasts, rivers, birds and heritage," he said.
"There's nothing wrong with any of these shows individually, but together they all hum the same note and I don't see how that's good for public service television... The BBC should be leading the way with the new and the different and the challenging - and I don't think anybody believes they are to the extent that they should."
Celebrity low points
Galloway offends with his tongue
Surely the most legendary moment in the history of CBB, came in January 2006 when George Galloway - who donned a red leotard in the house - licked milk from the hand of co-habitant Rula Lenska as part of a task, saying: "Would you like me... to be the cat?"
Vanessa loses the plot
The original series of Celebrity Big Brother in 2001 will be best remembered for Vanessa Feltz apparently being pushed to the limits of sanity in the house, scrawling incoherently on the kitchen table, and screaming.
Jade rounds on Shilpa
The last series, in January 2007, was an altogether darker affair, marked by the racist bullying of Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty Jade Goody screamed at the Indian celebrity and called her a "poppodum."