Big Brother's blur machine

Big Brother executive producer Arnold Shapiro is pushing the titillating prospects for the sequel to CBS' less-than-memorable reality series, while downplaying the sexual chemistry the production obviously hopes will spark ratings.

CBS will have its "blurring machines" ready, according to Shapiro, who said last week that the new production will show all it can of its house-bound contestants—short of being X-rated. "We will go as far as we can go and no farther," declared Shapiro, whose production credits include Rescue 911 and Scared Straight.

CBS would almost certainly welcome anything that would provide a ratings boost for the Endemol concept series, which was TV's first reality bomb.

In a teleconference call last week about the show's Thursday-night debut, Shapiro said he has assembled a cast of highly competitive, racially diverse, opinionated and "delightfully quirky" people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There are six men and six women, including Bunky, a 36-year-old gay writer; Monica, a 40-year-old candy-store manager; and Nicole, a 31-year-old newlywed (apparently, Nicole's hubby is not coming).

And while Shapiro downplays considerations about their physical appeal, he says Big Brother wanted a "sparkling and scintillating" group. A weak cast, he said, was the first Big Brother's prime deficiency.

But Shapiro sought to draw a distinction between Big Brother and Temptation Island, in which committed couples are put in situations to encourage cheating on their mates. Shapiro said that, while no one has suggested that the contestants be sexually active in the Big Brother house, he won't be "surprised" if sex and nudity are part of the scene.

This time around, the contestants—not the audience—will vote to kick each other out of the house as they vie to survive for the million-dollar prize. Two psychologists screened the contestants, and background checks were conducted to detect violent behavior or criminal records, according to Shapiro. Violence is the ultimate taboo in the rulebook drafted for the cast, which will be sequestered sometime this week.

Like the first production, this Big Brother will have round-the-clock video streaming from the house for those who just can't get enough on air. How that is going to get blurred, if at all, was an unanswered question last week. America Online produced the site last time around, but CBS hasn't yet named its online producer.

No word either on advertisers for the second round of Big Brother, which may still have to prove that there's a sizable audience out there for this kind of contrived voyeurism.