If you don’t know what to expect from a new group of “Big Brother” houseguests, think how Julie Chen feels.
The co-host of the Daytime Emmy-winning weekday program “The Talk” restarts her other major CBS job by presiding again over the network’s unscripted strangers-in-close-quarters contest when Season 18 gets a two-hour launch Wednesday (June 22). Even if she has to give herself a crash course on the rivals who will vie to avoid elimination and end the summer $500,000 richer, Chen has learned certain lessons over her previous seasons with the internationally popular format that always apply.
“You know, the biggest hurdle for me is learning all the new names,” she tells Zap2it. “There are usually 16, and the minute they move in, we pretty much put them to work right away with some sort of challenge. If someone falls or is cheating or has to get called upon for one thing or another, I’ve gotta know, ‘Is that Frankie or is that Joe?’
“Then, there’s learning the rules if there’s a new twist. When we first did Battle of the Block, it took me a while to understand it on paper and when it was explained to me … but as soon as we got in the game, it clicked and it made sense. And then, of course, there’s always the added hours to my day. I don’t stop doing ‘The Talk,’ which doesn’t go on hiatus until August this year. There is a little bit of juggling my schedule, but I get through it. I’ve been doing a crazy schedule pretty much my whole career, so nothing is too bad.”
As usual, weekly Thursday and Sunday episodes of “Big Brother” will air along with the Wednesday telecasts, plus non-broadcast live feeds from inside the well-monitored Big Brother House will be offered on the streaming service CBS All Access. For any and all elements that seem familiar by the show’s 18th round, the pleasant Chen notes some course corrections were needed early on.
“The first season, it was a surprise that it didn’t work having viewers call in to vote people out,” she recalls. “It worked well, but in a flipped version, on ‘American Idol’ because you asked people to call in for who they liked. As Americans, we vote out the troublemakers who quite are often the most interesting and compelling houseguests — and that makes for a very boring show, and no tension in the house. It worked in other cultures, though, so that was a surprise.
“In Season 2, the diehards stayed with us and we got some new viewers. That was one of the best seasons we had, because we brought in American producers who re-examined the game and put their version of how it should be played on it. I’ve also found that because we’re only on during the summer, every year, we get a new crop of young viewers. They’re home because they’re too young to drive, so they can’t go out every night, and too young to work. They discover the show and they get hooked.”
The wife of CBS Corporation president and CEO Leslie Moonves, Chen says the two of them have “Big Brother”-related discussions “all the time,” even if there isn’t a show controversy that’s making headlines (as there have been on several occasions). “We love watching the show on Sundays. It’s our little weekend treat. When we’re sitting there watching just incredible behavior, we’ll comment to each other on it: ‘Can you believe so-and-so did this or that?’ “