The Genius of ‘The Glass House’

If it were a crime for one network to borrow the premise of another’s hit show, half of TV would go dark.

CBS’ “Big Brother” tried to press the issue in court, failing to obtain an injunction to prevent the season premiere of “The Glass House” on ABC Monday.

It had a lot of what we love about “Big Brother” – big personalities, contrived situations to squeeze out early rivalries, ridiculous challenges and mostly the voyeurism of watching people hang out.

In a household where most people go to sleep early, it was fun in the summertime to just have the “Big Brother” roll on in  the background, as if one was in an active house of roommates with whom you didn’t have to interact or even pay attention if you didn’t want to (or best of all: turn them off when you were tired with them).

I may have tuned into more of the security-cam shots of “Big Brother After Dark” than I did the regular network show.

That’s what makes “Glass House” seems so different: It’s not about the network show at all – it’s all about the online.

On CBS, the online “Big Brother” the only summer I subscribed was sort of oddball voyeuristic fun though at times sometimes all they did on the other end was sleep. But even when they were awake, most of what they did was scheme endlessly about alliances and survival and voting strategies. It got awful dull after a while.

On “Glass House” online, there is always action, with activities planned every hour, and dozens of questions to the audience that kept it from being a strictly passive activity. Viewers can instantly vote on what kind of confessions they want from the contestants and then vote on how good the stories are.

It was also a better indication of how the season will shape up than the season premiere was. On that, the contestants seemed dominated by a jerk named Alex who insisted on making himself the center of attention and another dude so dumb he didn’t know whether Oregon was in the West or East.

As it turns out, Jacob, as volunteer team leader for the losing side of a competition, was automatically sent to limbo, and Alex was almost unanimously sent there to join them. After Alex had asked viewers whether he should become a super villain, he want way over the top, telling women they were strippers or overweight, taunting and annoying everybody. This wasn’t entertainment, it was irritation.

So for the live feed after the broadcast, the house had a very different, female-dominated feel (perhaps it was because they were decorating cakes).

Little did they know that Jacob had decided to quit the show altogether once he was in limbo (maybe he couldn’t stand being with Alex either). The houseguests weren’t informed of this, but would be doing so in the fourth hour of the live feed, we are told (OK maybe we’ll stay up).

What was clear was that the main meat of the show was online for the first time and broadcast was a tease to get there, get online and get voting on what direction the show will take. If only democracy itself were so instant; if only results were apparent this quickly.

But there are still limitations of the form: Though it was Ashley’s birthday celebration, guests were warned to not sing “Happy Birthday” (licensing issues).

This entry was posted in Reality Bites. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.