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Exploiting racial, ethnic slurs for ratings? CBS’ ‘Big Brother’ spikes in Nielsens
NEW YORK - Racially insensitive language hurt some cast members’ reputations in the CBS game “Big Brother,” but it may not have been bad for television ratings.
Contestants on this season’s “Big Brother” have been caught on the game’s 24-hour-a-day Internet feed making boorish remarks, and some were seen Sunday on one of the show’s television broadcasts.
Contestant GinaMarie Zimmerman, 32, of Staten Island, N.Y., referred to welfare as “N-word insurance.” While this was seen on the feed made available through CBS’ website, it was not shown on television.
However, an exchange with fellow contestant Aaryn Gries of San Angelo, Texas, was shown on CBS. During the conversation, Ms. Zimmerman said that a house member who is black is “on the dark side, but she’s already dark.” Ms. Gries responded: “Be careful what you say in the dark because you might not be able to see the bitch.”
Ms. Zimmerman was subsequently fired from her job as a beauty pageant coordinator, according to published reports. Pageant officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Ms. Gries, a student who does work for a modeling agency, was reportedly dropped by her agency.
Ms. Gries also referred to another contestant as a “queer.” In another conversation, Ms. Gries was referring to an Asian-American housemate when she said: “Shut up, go make some rice.” She also spoke in an exaggerated Asian accent.
At another point, Ms. Gries said, “I look, probably, like a squinty Asian right now.”
The racial remarks clearly disturbed other contestants on the show. Howard Overby, a youth counselor who is black, said he resisted expressing anger for fear it could hurt his chances in the game.
An estimated 6.25 million people watched “Big Brother” on Sunday, a 6 percent increase over the average of 5.9 million viewers for the first three episodes of the summertime series, the Nielsen company said. While viewership was down compared to last year for the first three episodes, the audience was roughly the same each year for the fourth episode, Nielsen said.
So did some well-publicized controversy boost the ratings for the long-running reality series that tests the abilities of people to live on camera in a house full of strangers?
Perhaps. But it’s worth noting that there are more people in general watching TV on Sundays than other nights. And the week of July Fourth, when earlier “Big Brother” episodes were shown, is typically the least-watched TV week of the year. The true test for “Big Brother” is whether the show can sustain any interest in the characters.
CBS said in a statement that it did not condone what its characters said and the remarks don’t represent the views of the network or show producers. CBS said it was “weighing carefully issues of broadcast standards, an obligation to inform the audience of important elements that influence the competition, and sensitivity to how any inappropriate comments are presented.”
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