Sometimes it's best not to mess with an original.

As the reality-based show "Big Brother" on CBS sinks in the ratings, executives at MTV are celebrating blockbuster ratings in the reality-based genre they helped pioneer almost a decade ago.

Some have called "Big Brother" a knockoff of MTV's "The Real World," as both throw strangers into a house together and tape the results. The difference is that "The Real World," in its ninth season, has long been a cult favorite and premiered to record-high ratings this year, while "Big Brother" is already fading badly; after debuting with 22.5 million viewers on July 5, the show dropped consistently every day it was shown afterward, falling to 10 million viewers by July 17.

Now that the "reality" genre is the darling of mainstream television, MTV executives are trying to figure out how best to exploit their "Real World" franchise. One thing they won't be doing is adding gimmicks to the show. "Real World: Antarctica," where seven strangers live in an igloo and see who's still alive at the end of the season, won't soon be appearing on MTV.

"I just didn't feel like being a reactionary copycat," said Brian Graden, president of the cable channel. "To add gimmicks, to me, would just be desperate."

Emphasis on marketing

Instead of drastic changes to production or content of "The Real World" or "Road Rules," MTV's travel-based reality show, executives are weighing new marketing tactics in the face of increased interest in the genre.

"The only things we have thought about, given that there is so much attention surrounding these shows, is should we participate in interviews, such as this one, and should we do marketing on-air that sends up those other franchises and show that ours are the grandfathers," Graden said. "We have had discussions (about the latter), but we haven't made any decisions about whether we care to or not."

That laid-back attitude runs contrary to the frenzied panic that has swept broadcast networks, which are scrambling to match the success of the hit "Survivor," in which castaways on a remote island must fend to survive with limited resources. Some observers feel MTV doesn't need to change its formula to keep up with other shows.

"To me, 'Big Brother' couldn't be more of a direct lift, and it's not showing to nearly as interesting a demographic (as 'The Real World')," said Pam McNeely, a media buyer at ad agency Dailey & Associates. "I'd rather watch good-looking young people than the cast of characters they've got on 'Big Brother.'"


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