“I never thought we would see a ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ in the United States,” admits Julie Chen, host of the celeb-reality TV competition that premiered last February on CBS. “We had explored it in Season 2. I remember one of the verbal commitments we got was Paris Hilton. The big name at that time that we [confirmed] was Roseanne Barr.” In our exclusive video interview (watch above), Chen describes how the first celebrity edition was finally green-lit after multiple scrapped attempts and even reveals which famous face she thinks deserved to win.
“There were a few huge obstacles to overcome. The time commitment and the expense made it very difficult,” Chen explains. “Then someone came up with the brilliant idea to counter-program the Winter Olympics. You only need celebrities for a couple of weeks. They crunched the numbers and financially made it possible. My husband [CBS chief Les Moonves] told me, ‘You’re taking a pay cut.'”
When pressed about which celebrity deserved to win the grand prize, Chen held nothing back. “I was convinced [Marissa Jaret Winokur] made a quarter-of-a million dollar mistake when she chose Ross Mathews [to join her in the finale two]. I love Marissa, but she did not deserve to win. I learned, even if you’re a celebrity, you vote according to your ego. Ross, hands down, deserved to win but he didn’t. Because he was sneaky!”
What did Chen think about the casting of Omarosa? “I knew it was going to be TV magic,” Chen recalls. “Despite the warnings from her managers, her agents and her husband telling her not to do it, she did it anyway. I knew we were in for the ‘Omarosa Show’ when she walked on stage and did a stop … a throw of the shoulder … and a throw of the shoulder. It was like a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.’
The regular version of “Big Brother” begins shooting Season 20 in June, a landmark Chen was doubtful they could ever reach. “I never thought ‘Big Brother’ would even complete Season 1. I remember them telling me, ‘If your numbers don’t stay, they could cancel your show.’ How do you cancel a [live reality show] with peoples’ lives existing inside the ‘Big Brother’ house? Do you just set them all free?”
Watch the full video of our interview with the Daytime Emmy-winning talk show host (“The Talk”) to hear which “Big Brother” contestant made her “blood boil,” which reality TV show Chen would like to compete in herself, and where her famous phrase #ButFirst originated.
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