Arnold Shapiro, Executive Producer of the CBS show Big Brother (together with Allison Grodner and Rich Meehan) took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me. I polled some of the show fans on message boards and on my blog to see what they really wanted to know and here's the skinny directly from Mr. Shapiro:
Q: In the opening credits for the show, as well as the intro/exit to commercial breaks, there is a close-up shot of a partial face and eye with the Big Brother logo. Whose eye is that? The talk has spread from a staff member to Mike "Boogie." Please settle one of the longest lasting silly BB disputes ever for us.
A: Although I was not producing BB1, it's my understanding that the partial face and eye is not the exotic story that some have surmised. In fact, they belonged to someone working at the graphics house that designed the logo opening – "just some guy down the hall who we grabbed for the shot." That's the real story. Nothing exotic or even interesting.
Q: Live feeds watchers, in particular, often hear the phrase "penalty nomination." I've watched the show since it started and don't recall one ever being used. If a penalty nomination were to be used, how would it work? Would there be three houseguests nominated for eviction? Why aren't penalty nominations used?
A: The possibility of a penalty nomination really exists. It's an option we've yet to use. Yes, it would probably mean that there would be three nominees up for eviction. I'm glad we haven't had to use it because it would mean that a houseguest really messed up and didn't follow our rules.
Q: Have you tasted the Big Brother Slop? Is the big problem with it that it's bland? (The houseguests always seem to be spicing it up somehow.) Is it an oatmeal blend? How many consecutive weeks can a houseguest be placed on the BB Slop restriction?
A: I have not personally had the pleasure of sampling the BB slop. I'm told it's nutritious but extremely bland. The longest time a houseguest would be required to eat only slop – after losing a food competition – is one week. However, George is on slop for as long as he's in the house because of a unique offer that he agreed to in the veto competition. So George will be the "slop record holder" of BB All-Stars.
Q: Is there any word about a Season 8?
A: We usually find out about whether we're picked up for another season in the weeks after our season ends so, at this point, there is no word on BB8. But our ratings are strong, the shows are good (in my humble opinion), and I feel optimistic that there will be a BB8 – with an all-new cast.
Q: You've had several show twists over the years, many involving a major twist to the season itself (Ex-Factor, DNA, etc.). What major twist did you find the most difficult to achieve and/or work with from the production end of things? Have you ever had to give up on a twist idea because it just wasn't workable?
A: Every twist that was created we have been able to pull off. If a twist idea is too unrealistic, we won't try it (mainly because of the time involved that would be wasted). The most challenging twist we achieved was "Project Do Not Assume" or "DNA" where we put a half-brother and half-sister into the house ("Cowboy" and "Nakomis") as well as the identical twin sisters who switched places every few days and fooled the house guests 10 times (Adria and Natalie). In the process of interviewing identical twins we found Drew and Diane who we put into the house as individuals.
Q: The Internet audience watching the live feeds makes Big Brother a show like no other. With websites reporting every breath they take and every move they make, what challenges does that present? Do you think the show would be as successful without the feeds watching (and reporting) audience?
A: Big Brother is unique because of the Internet feeds. I'm sure it contributes to our success. The only challenge the feeds present to us is that we have to block them from time to time because of competitions or if the house guests are doing something that presents a legal problem for us. And, unfortunately, the subscribers become angry and frustrated and call us with their complaints. But I can assure everyone that we do our best to keep the feeds on as much as we possibly can. When they are not on, there is a legitimate reason.
Q: Are there any houseguests (outside of the 20 choices) that you personally would have loved to see in with the current mix of the 'All Stars' house?
A: Even with 20 choices, there were still past house guests we liked and would have liked to include, but we had agreed that 20 was our number. My biggest disappointment – personally – was one of the 20 who did not make it in: Lisa Donahue. But, again, there were reasons for everyone who is in and who is not. But I personally wish that Lisa could have been one of the chosen 14.
Q: You weren't involved with the first season. Did you know what you were getting into with Chicken George? (I'm glad he made it this season.) He's a bit off-the-wall, y'know.
A: Although I did not produce season one, I watched it. I was quite familiar with "Chicken" George. Yes, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. But I must say, in interviewing him, he is one of the nicest house guests I've ever met, and he is truly honored to be a part of All-Stars. His antics are part of his "charm" (or whatever word you might want to substitute).
Q: Are there any houseguests whose behavior truly surprised you in the house – a total change from when they were in casting?
A: Being in the house changes everyone to one degree or another. So, no, I'm not surprised by the way anyone has acted or is acting. The house makes everyone somewhat unpredictable. I guess you have to experience it to fully understand it.
Q: I realize the most recent season is often what stays in the minds of viewers. Therefore, there are four people from last season. Do you think they have an unfair advantage? (Or will Will and Danielle just take 'em down one by one?)
A: America voted in four people from Season 6. So whether or not they have an unfair advantage, it was a situation created by the viewers, not by us. It's too soon in the season to say whether they have an unfair advantage. Things change by the week – and the hour – in the BB house, so we won't know until the end about the advantages or disadvantages of being from BB6.
Q: My favorite comps tend to be the ones like the one transforming faces and/or ones which make me laugh aloud. An example of the latter was one where the houseguests had huge sponge outfits on a few seasons ago. Do you have a favorite competition?
A: I don't have one favorite competition, but, like you, I prefer the ones that make me laugh out loud, and several have done that – too many to mention here. Remember, it's usually not the competition itself that's funny, but rather the house guests' reaction to it or the way they play it that results in audience laughter. We've had great competitions that were suspenseful, that required coordination skills, a strong stomach, agility, courage, etc. Our goal is to try and make each competition be something different to the house guests and to the viewers.
There you go, directly from Mr. Shapiro! I want to thank him once again for his time and may the best All Star win this season!