CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER 2010: INTERVIEW WITH EXECUTIVE PRODUCER SHIRLEY JONES

by Lisa McGarry

What is your role on Celebrity Big Brother?

I’m the Executive Producer. My role is to come up with a vision for the show – the look and the feel of it, to put a cast together and steer a way through it. I work closely with Phil (Philip Edgar Jones), the creative director, and oversee all the different elements of it. We look after the launch show, nominations, how we change things, the tasks, and hopefully deliver a compelling show.

This being the last ever Celebrity Big Brother, are there plans afoot to give it a spectacular send-off?

I hope so! We’ve tried really hard to look at the show with fresh eyes to assess what we can improve upon, and what we can change, especially with this being the last one. We have introduced some changes, in the house, in the tasks, and with the launch show, which will be a bit different this year. We hope those changes will be surprising and unexpected. We’ve changed some little things this time as well. In the past six years, celebrities have been limited to just one suitcase. But there’s something quite interesting about letting them decide how much luggage they bring. What they bring says something about them. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be an easy ride. I think a lot of people feel that the celebrities get an easier time compared with the guys in the summer, and it’s not going to happen this time. I think they’re going to be in for a bit of a rollercoaster ride. We intend to go out with a bang.

Will it be a new house?

Usually Celebrity Big Brother uses the house from the summer series but there are some big changes this year. That’s all I am going to say right now though!

How do you go about recruiting for Celebrity Big Brother?

We have our celebrity bookers, and we all come up with a list of people we’d be interested in meeting. It can be difficult with celebrities, by the very nature of what they do, you don’t always get to know the real person underneath. Part of the beauty of Celebrity Big Brother is trying to peel off those layers and find the real person beneath the celebrity. So we want a mix of ages, genders, professions, backgrounds. Ideally we’d like celebrities who have never met one another, but it’s very difficult to be 100 per cent certain of who knows who. It’s an interesting challenge to get it right – do you provide great names that might not be as exciting as you hoped, or do you find lesser-known people who are great characters? It’s all a bit of a juggling process, but we are confident we have a diverse mix of people who we think will make for compulsive viewing.

What precautions do you take to keep housemates’ identities secret before the launch show? It must be like MI6 there.

It is! It’s one of those things where you can get someone confirmed right at the start, and then you’ve got to keep it a secret for five months. It’s really hard. Only a small handful of people know the identity of the celebrities we’ve booked. You have to trust people to keep it secret. We like people to be entertained and surprised on launch night. We even use code names for them: they stop being known by their real names. There’s always speculation, and there always will be, some of it’s pretty good and some is quite far off the mark. At some points in the past, the press has got absolutely the right person, but even then you never know if it’s just guesswork or if they somehow found out.

How far in advance is the final line-up confirmed? Have you ever found yourself desperately trying to recruit celebrities at the last minute?

We try as hard as we can to get them booked as far in advance as we can. But it’s an ongoing process, piecing together the right mix of people. I don’t think we’ve ever had to look for people at the last minute, but sometimes we decide who to choose from our list quite late on.

Has it been easier to get celebrities involved this year because it’s the final year of the show?

Yes. A lot of people have turned out to be interested this year, some of whom have really surprised us. They’ve said that as it’s the last one, they’re interested. That’s really nice, because it means we’ve got a wider pool of celebrities to choose from.

One of the most popular elements of the show over the years has been the tasks. Can we look forward to the usual creative brilliance on that front?

The task teams have worked so hard to be even more creative than they’ve ever been. I think this series will have some very interesting and unique tasks, the likes of which we’ve never had on the show before. I think people expect the getting dressed up in costumes and performing, but it’s worth staying tuned to see what we’re going to put them through, because it will be different.

The filming process must be pretty intensive for you. How much time do you spend on site during the series?

I’ll be there every day. Every waking moment is spent on the series. Even if I’m not there, I’m on call 24 hours a day. I’ve written off January already. But when you’re there, you don’t really want to leave it, to be honest. You just sit there watching what’s going on in the house, and it’s really hard to leave it. I’m really excited about it; the whole team’s excited about it.

What have been your favourite Celebrity Big Brother moments over the years?

There are always the ones that stand out that everybody chooses, and I’m going to be really predictable and say the same ones. I loved John McCririck, he was a great housemate. And the moment Jackie Stallone entered was superb, especially because we’d planned it. George Galloway being the cat, and George and Pete Burns doing the robotics were brilliant. Last year, Verne Troyer crashing into the diary room door on his scooter. Every series you hope you’re going to get that YouTube moment where you want to watch it over and over again, and you laugh every time you see it.

What, to your mind, would make the perfect Celebrity Big Brother this time around?

I’m looking forward to seeing the celebrities doing some of these new tasks, because they’re really going to be something to watch! I want a bit of unpredictability, and we always want some laughs. Everyone always says “Oh, you just want people to fight all the time,” and actually that’s not really true. We want it to entertain, and seeing a celebrity do something that’s funny is great. I hope that it’s going to be a bit of a rollercoaster, and I hope that we go out with a bang. The best thing would be if we could finish and people say “I’m sorry that’s gone.” If we leave on a high and we’ve all had fun and it’s been an entertaining ride, then I think we’ve all done our job.

Lisa McGarry

Lisa has been watching reality TV for too long now. She won't do any housework unless 'Big Brother' announces it over the tannoy and everything she does has to be put to a public vote!