TV is looking to history for new hits, as Survivor, Gladiators and Big Brother are revived

BBC set to revive ‘original’ reality show Survivor and 90s classic challenge Gladiators. With Big Brother back on ITV and a new Pop Idol in the works, broadcasters are refreshing old formats which are fresh to younger viewers


TV is looking to history for new hits, as Survivor, Gladiators and Big Brother are revived

Contestants on Survivor plead their case before Tribal Council in a scene from the US version of the reality show (Image – CBS/Getty)

By Adam SherwinArts and Media Correspondent

Television is going back to the future with BBC revivals of classic reality series Survivor and game show Gladiators competing against the return of Big Brother on ITV.

The channels might have changed – Survivor and Gladiators originally ran on ITV whilst Big Brother hopped from Channel 4 to 5 – but the shows remain the same.

Hit shows of the “noughties” reality TV boom, dropped after viewers tired of the manipulative formats, are providing fertile territory for broadcasters raiding the archives for new entertainment hits which already bring name recognition.

Instead of gambling on an expensive new format, the BBC is close to announcing a revival of Survivor, the “original” reality elimination show which ran on ITV in 2000.

The eviction show revolved around two “tribes” of ordinary people stranded on a remote island battling over supplies, with the winner in the US version taking home a $1m prize.

The BBC is also in talks to reboot Gladiators, the Saturday night sports entertainment challenge which aired on ITV during the 90s and was later picked up by Sky.

ITV, having exhausted instant-stardom singing shows with the demise of The X Factor after a decade of success now believes the time is ripe to revisit Pop Idol, 20 years after the show which shot fearsome judge Simon Cowell to stardom, was axed.

A broadcasting source said: “Rebooting a heritage brand is attractive to broadcasters because there is now a generation of younger viewers who will not have seen the originals. They will watch with their parents if the show appeals across generations.”

The shows can also stem the tide of viewers drifting to streaming rivals, which did not exist when shows such as Pop Idol dominated Saturday nights.

“Netflix and Apple spend billions on new drama but they haven’t yet mastered the technology to deliver a live voting show,” the source said.

“That’s why Strictly Come Dancing still beats all-comers on Saturday night. Like live sport, there are some events you need to watch as it happens. And Strictly itself is of course a reimagining of a format that dates back to 1949 [Come Dancing].”

Yet shows like Big Brother fell out of fashion for a reason and the producers behind the new versions have pledged to reinvent the formats to meet the demands of today’s audiences.

Ditched by Channel 4 in 2010 after 11 series, Big Brother will be reimagined for the “Love Island generation” when contestants enter a new purpose-built house at Bovingdon Airfield in Hertfordshire.

There will be a more diverse cast of characters and a greater focus on relationships in a “kinder, less confrontational” take on the show, which originated in the Netherlands in 1999, insiders say.

Producers Banijay are also in advanced discussions with the BBC over the return of Survivor, originally created by British TV producer Charlie Parsons, and which has run for 42 seasons on US network CBS.

ITV axed Survivor in 2002, transferring resources into I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, which featured similar elements but proved a bigger ratings hit.

The BBC is set to commit extensive resources to Survivor, which is expected to film in an exotic location next year.

Gladiators is also set for a Saturday night return on BBC with Sheffield set to provide the arena for the “professional gladiators” to take part in a series of physical challenges against contestants.

Social media will play a central role in the reality revivals with viewers encouraged to debate the latest developments and possibly interact with their favourite characters after they have taken part in challenges. ITV2 will make the Big Brother live eviction show, the culmination of a week of voting, a highlight of its schedule.

Contestants will also be made more aware of the pitfalls of being thrust into the spotlight. Former Big Brother winner Nadia Almada said she felt suicidal after being evicted from the Ultimate version of the show. She blamed negative editing of her actions in the house which resulted in her facing abuse when she left.

Hopefuls must pass a stringent psychological assessment of their mental health before appearing and will be offered extensive aftercare by ITV to guide them through the pitfalls of returning to the real world after leaving the house.

ITV ramped up its support package for Love Island contestants following the death by suicide of two former participants.

The BBC declined to comment on the Survivor and Gladiator revivals. An announcement on Survivor is however believed to be imminent.

ITV is understood to be considering testing the water with a Pop Idol special before committing to any extended return.

Paul Mortimer, director of reality commissioning at ITV2, said of Big Brother: “This refreshed, contemporary new series will contain all the familiar format points that kept viewers engaged and entertained the first time round, but with a brand new look and some additional twists that speak to today’s audience. We’re beyond excited to bring this iconic series to ITV2.”

Welcome back to ‘cheesy’ Gladiators

It was gloriously cheesy entertainment which kept Saturday night viewers hooked during the 90s.

Adapted from an American format, the show pitted a pair of male and female contestants against the “professional” gladiators, in a series of physical challenges, leading up to the travellator grand finale.

In reality, the battles usually involved competitors, clad in unfeasibly-tight spandex costumes, standing on huge podiums, clunking each the head with gigantic cotton buds.

Presented by Ulrika Jonsson, the ITV series made household names of fearsome gladiators such as “horrible brute” Wolf (bodybuilder Michael Van Wijk) and the Amazonian permed Panther, played by Helen O’Reilly, another champion bodybuilder.

Last aired on Sky in 2009, the BBC believes viewers are ready for another dose of pugil sticked- combat in front of 13,000 baying fans at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena – although this could impede the shortlisted city’s bid to host Eurovision 2023 at the venue.

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