CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler defended “Big Brother” as a “social experiment” after she was questioned Wednesday about whether CBS will try to find contestants who are “not as dumb or mean.”
Tassler addressed the issue in a Television Critics Association panel in response to a question from Vulture’s Josef Adalian. He was referencing several racist comments last year, including those by Texas model Aaryn Gries.
“Without necessarily going over what happened last year, did you learn any lessons from that experience? Will you be making any changes to ensure that perhaps contestants are not as dumb or mean next year? Or do you feel sort of crippled by the fact that the ratings are still so good and America still watches, we can’t afford to change it?” Adalian asked.
Tassler said she was “mortified” by Gries’ comments, noting that they came amid an intense focus on racism because of the Paula Deen “N-word” debate and Trayvon Martin case.
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But she didn’t promise smarter or less mean contestants.
“It was this extraordinary series of events that were dominating the news waves,” she said. “And what I can tell you is — and this is the part that we have to remind ourselves — it is a social experiment. You are taking people from very disparate walks of life and confining them in a house for a finite period of time.
Another “Big Brother” contestant, GinaMarie Zimmerman, was also accused of racism last season.
“I sit in those auditions and I sit in those interviews and you’re talking to people and you get one perspective on their personality,” she added. “You ask very probing questions and you develop an opinion about that person. You do the requisite backgrounds checks on everybody the same way we’ve been doing it on all of our shows for years, obviously upgrading as more and more resources are available to us.
“But at the end of the day, we felt that the producers handled it responsibly, dealt with it as well as they could. So I think you have to recognize that, yes, this is that show and it is a social experiment and the contestants go through a pretty aggressive process of screening,” she said.
She noted that CBS CEO Les Moonves has said he found the “Big Brother” comments “absolutely appalling.” His wife, Julie Chen, hosts the show.