For those of you who enjoyed “Big Brother Canada” this year as much as we did, you’ll be pleased to know that the wheels are already in motion for season 2. The nationwide casting call came to Toronto, where countless people auditioned throughout the day in hopes of landing a spot on the cast.
During this process, we had a chance to speak with one of the people responsible for helping to run the ship smoothly on the Slice / Shaw Media end: Executive producer Christine Shipton. In addition to having a hand in many important decisions from casting to production, she’s also the perfect person to take on the franchise as a longtime fan of the show. In just a few minutes of speaking to her, we really got a sense that this was someone who cared deeply about making the show even better than season 1, and that has to be encouraging for many fans possibly concerned that Slice would just rest on their laurels and be happy with what they have.
CarterMatt – So far into production, have you found this experience to be somewhat less stressful than the first year?
Christine Shipton – I think it was a lot more stressful last year than it will be this year, because from a network point of view, you’re trusting a production unit that has to learn to do a whole new model of television. You know, I wouldn’t say stressful; it was exciting, exhilarating, and it was 24/7.’
Was there any way at all to predict the level of success that you were going to have with the show earlier this year?
We knew that it was going to be successful because the brand is successful. But we just didn’t anticipate how Canadians just got so excited and latched onto it, whether it be with social media or just online. I don’t think we could have predicted that. The ‘Big Brother’ brand has been around 15 years, and we had thought about dong a Canadian version before and decided not to. Had we done it four or five years ago, it wouldn’t have been the same. Without social media and that ability to connect and be engaged, it would have been a totally different show.
Was there one point during last season where you really felt the pressure from the production point of view?
The double-eviction was truly nerve-wrecking. You’re trying to get two evictions, an HoH, a PoV … those are jammed. But as the network, and we were the network behind the scenes, you can’t be sitting on top of producers. They gotta do what they gotta do. You don’t have a job. We just have to be there watching in case something goes wrong and producers need the network’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’ … It’s almost more stressful not having a job and just watching. I was just pacing in the back.
Is there anything that you may have learned or figured out from the first season that you’re going to try to implement more in the second season?
As I said, just the engagement factor with Canadians participating. We just didn’t anticipate [the reaction to that]. This is going to sound like a sell, but you’re going to see more twists, more turns, and I actually mean it. We’re going to really engage Canada with a number of different layers, and not just like the big ‘who should stay’ [vote with Suzette]. We’re going to really try to layer [them] in, and allow Canadians to have choices. I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s really in the fabric of the show.
So take us through some of the planning that goes into each season. Is there a group of producers that sits down and brainstorms ideas?
There’s a different bunch of teams. You have the lead producers who deal with us, and you have challenge producers, and their job is literally come up with more and more silly challenges. They bring them into us, and we say ‘oh, that’s too silly, that’s good, that’s not good.’ We also look at challenges to see how we can integrate advertisers; we’re not hiding any of that. All of that is playful and fun and doesn’t interrupt the game for advertiser involvement.
How big of a role would you say the network has in final say? I know there are separate people from casting [such as director Robyn Kass] who are brought in from the States, but what is the network’s role?
We have final say, and are responsible for everyone that we are putting on air. But while we say that, it’s not just one individual, since this is just too complicated. So what will happen now after all of the [casting] teams have traveled cross-country is that I have a week blocked off in my calendar in November, where we go off to a hotel for five days and we do the final callbacks with 40 people. [Casting’s] job is to get it down to 40, but before that we have all kinds of discussions about what kind of people would be good, what kind of people we didn’t have last year. We see all 40, and then we decide on 16 or 14 or 12, however many we want on later.
And I don’t want to necessarily pigeonhole what you are looking for, but are there any particular personalities that you are hoping to see?
We want people who are true to themselves, and we hope they show who they are in this audition process. You’re always going to get surprises, people who get into the house and different parts of them come out. Like we didn’t realize how funny and clever Peter was going to be; we didn’t realize that he wanted to be that commentator. There are surprises, and you always hope that people show who they are. And it’s about a mix. We will look to see where their senses of humor lies. I think for us last year, one point of difference was how funny it was, and how much the audience laughed. It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any fighting, but I never felt that it got really mean. There were a few incidents here and there, but that’s just good TV.
Obviously, season 1 is going to have a special place in your heart. Is that a standard that you’ve set for other shows, other seasons?
Absolutely. And the goal now is to top it. We have to be better. We have to have more elements to it. We have to grow our audience; we were overjoyed with the audience we did get, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grow it. I think Canadians are going to come to it more this year, because they get it that the Canadian version is a little different and is fun.
As for that one final tease? Let’s just put it this way: Shipton says that there is a “big twist” that will happen right at the start of the season. This has been a staple of many other seasons of the show internationally, and we expect it to be just as original and shocking as some of them.
This article is the first of many that we are going to be rolling out every Monday about “Big Brother Canada” season 2, which also includes some “looking back” pieces with select season 1 houseguests. Be sure to check back every week for another piece, especially next week when we drop another teaser on the new twist from another person involved in production.
Meanwhile, click here for our exclusive tag page with just “Big Brother Canada” results. The new season will premiere this winter on Slice.
Follow Matt Carter
Follow Jessa Carter