Big Brother (Dutch TV series)

Big Brother is the original Dutch version of the international reality television franchise Big Brother. It created the format in which contestants live in an isolated house trying to avoid being evicted by the public with the aim of a prize at the end. This Endemol production set the rules for other versions of Big Brother.

Big Brother
Original logo of Big Brother.
GenreReality competition
Created byJohn de Mol
Presented by
Country of originNetherlands
Original language(s)Dutch
No. of seasons6
Original network
Original releaseSeptember 16, 1999 (1999-09-16) 
November 27, 2006 (2006-11-27)
Related showsSecret Story


John de Mol

The idea was born on Thursday, 4 September 1997 during a brainstorm session at John de Mol Produkties, an independent part of Endemol. Participants were John de Mol, Patrick Scholtze, Bart Römer and his brother, Paul Römer.[1] The idea called for a luxurious house with six contestants, closed for a year. The winner would receive 1,000,000 guilders. The working title was De Gouden Kooi (The Golden Cage) and the original concept was eventually realized as a reality show on Dutch television at the end of 2006.

The group came up with the idea after the 1991 Biosphere 2 experiment in the Arizona desert, in which eight men and women discovered how hard it is to live together inside an airtight glass and steel geodesic dome that sought to replicate the Earth's environment. Big Brother alternated deprivation with excess.

The format of Big Brother was also influenced by MTV's The Real World, which began in 1992 and originated the concept of putting strangers together for an extended period and recording the drama that ensued. The Real World had introduced "confessions" by housemates. Another pioneering reality format, the Swedish TV show Expedition Robinson, (produced in many countries as Survivor) which first aired in 1997, added to the Real World 's template the idea of competition, in which contestants battled were removed from the show until only one remained.

The idea of introducing 24/7 streaming video was influenced by websites like from Jennifer Ringley, a Washington resident who created it in 1997 to share her activities with Webwatchers.

In development, occupancy of the house was reduced to 100 days. An existing house was abandoned in favor of a prefabricated house. This made it possible to install "camera-cross", which allowed cameramen inside the house without being seen by the inhabitants. Originally, the idea was to produce a heavily edited weekly program, but after some experiments with the employees of the production house, the allure of slow television was discovered and the potential for a daily program was realized.

Orwell lawsuit

George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Big Brother is the all-seeing leader of a dystopian nation, has never been acknowledged by the producers. However, the heirs of Orwell settled an agreement with Endemol and the U.S. TV network CBS after legal proceedings against the concept in the American version. The payment has never been revealed.

Voyeurdorm lawsuit

According to a lawsuit in 2000 in a New York federal district court, Big Brother was homegrown in the United States. The idea, said the suit, came out of meetings in summer 1999 between CBS executives and, a Tampa, Florida, adult website of eight college-age women. These women lived, ate, slept, studied and "sunbathed naked" under 55 cameras.

Castaway lawsuit

Also in 2000, the production company Castaway, part-owned by Bob Geldof, sued Endemol for theft of format in a court in Amsterdam, saying the programme was a rip-off of its Survivor-show (Expedition Robinson). A lawyer listed 12 similarities to Survivor. Endemol rejected the allegations, saying: "The genre may be the same, but the programmes are completely different and they evolved separately. There are 20 or 30 game shows on TV and many different talk shows, but they are in the same genre, not the same programme."

The logo for Big Brother was designed to fit the housestyle of Dutch television station Veronica. The wave under both names harkens back to the time that Veronica was a pirate station, broadcasting from international waters off the Netherlands. The wave remained when Veronica left the Holland Media Groep and Big Brother was taken over by Yorin. It showed up in the logos of Big Brother all over the world. However, later versions of Dutch Big Brother at Talpa abandoned the logo and are using the eye-logo introduced with the second series of Big Brother UK.

Ethics and Debate

Upon the announcement of the program's format, a debate arose about its ethical acceptability. It was not known whether participants would be shown showering or in the toilet. Though both had been deemed unacceptable, only the latter still holds. Experts argued whether participants should be protected against themselves and whether participation would cause psychological or emotional damage. This discussion included the moral panic in Sweden after the first contestant voted off Expedition Robinson killed himself; his family reportedly blaming the rejection he felt due to being unpopular with the public.

P. van Lange, a social psychologist at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam pointed out the similarity to the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971).[2] Participants in that experiment were placed in a jail, where half played guards and the other half prisoners. In six days the experiment derailed. The guards became aggressive, repressive and sadistic. They transformed into personalities outside their normal selves. "From the Stanford-experiment may be concluded that human behavior is largely summoned by the local circumstances", added his colleague J. van der Pligt, professor at the Universiteit van Amsterdam.[2] "People get carried away," said A. Bergsma of Psychologie Magazine. "Isolation becomes reality. They lose themselves in the experiment. There are no checks and balances. If there is no correction, they will derail one after another."[2] All experts agreed that the big reward for the winner increased the chance of accidents. But not all had a negative opinion. A. Lange, a professor of clinical psychology at the Universiteit van Amsterdam indicated that the program could produce certain insights not possible to achieve any more in socio-psychological research because the psychological well-being of the participant had been given greater importance.[2] "The design of the programme is the wet dream of a psychological researcher. Nowhere in the world an ethical commission will be found that would agree to such a design", agreed psycho-physiologist A. Gaillard of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.[2]

From the moment Big Brother scored high ratings, the debate shifted to what this fact implied about the character of the Dutch, and if sexual explicitism and terms of abuse suited the early broadcasting. What was considered voyeurism now became mainstream entertainment. One explanation was that people had become more isolated and were searching for others to identify with. In this view, talking about Big Brother took the place of backbiting and scandal on the village green.

The debate in the Netherlands has died down and reality TV has become a standard of television programming. In hindsight it nonetheless became clear that some housemates (like first season's Bart en Ruud) suffered psychological problems akin to posttraumatic stress disorder. They weren't able to bear their 15 minutes of fame.


Regular seasons

SeriesBroadcasterLaunchFinaleDaysWinnerThe prizePresenter
Big Brother 1999Veronica16 September 199931 December 1999106Bart Spring in 't Veldƒ250,000 (€113,445)Rolf Wouters & Daphne Deckers
Big Brother 200014 September 200030 December 2000108Bianca HagenbeekEsther Duller & Beau Van Erven Doren
Big Brother 2001Yorin6 September 200130 December 2001115Sandy Bootsƒ675,000 (€306,302)Patty Brard
Big Brother 200228 August 200223 December 2002117Jeanette Godefroy€352,500Martijn Krabbé
Big Brother 2005Talpa24 August 200522 December 2005121Joost Hoebink€262,500Ruud de Wild & Bridget Maasland
Big Brother 200620 August 200627 November 2006102Jeroen Visser€178,750Bridget Maasland

VIPs seasons

Big Brother VIPsVeronica22 May 200016 June 200026No Winner
Hotel Big BrotherTalpa12 January 20066 March 200654

Secret Story

SeriesBroadcasterLaunchFinaleDaysWinnerThe prizePresenter
Secret Story 2011NET513 February 201112 May 201189Sharon Hooijkaas€117,050Renate Verbaan

See also


  1. Karel Hille et al. Big Brother. Hét boek. BZZZTôh / De Telegraaf, 's-Gravenhage / Amsterdam. 2000
  2. Tom-Jan Meeus. Riskante afvalrace op televisie. NRC, 24 September 1999
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