When CBS launched the reality show Big Brother in 2000, TV journalist-turned-host Julie Chen Moonves wasn’t sure the series would last the season. “That first summer, I heard rumblings that if things don’t turn around, the network could cancel it midseason,” says Moonves, 53. I said, “Well, how does that work? You just open the door and say, ‘Go home’ to the house guests? So not only did I not think I would have a Season 2, I wasn’t even sure if Season 1 was going to be completed.” Fast forward, and Season 25 of Big Brother kicks off Aug. 2. Moonves reveals what she’s learned from the show, the secrets to successful hosting and how she thinks she’d fare as a contestant.
What were your thoughts when they first asked you to host Big Brother?
Lots of questions. The only thing that really existed on the air even close to it was Survivor. My first question is, What is this? The next [questions were] Why me? Why don’t you get a professional game show host or a singer or an actress to do this? They said it boils down to two things: We need a journalist, because they have to be able to know how to ask the right questions and know how to do it on live television in a designated amount of time. We know your talents. We know you could do this. I had been doing that [same type of work] because I was the news anchor on [CBS’] The Early Show.
What’s the secret to being a good host?
Being a good listener and reading the temperature of the room, and knowing when to throw away the script. … You have to be able to be fast on your feet. Jeff [Probst, host of Survivor] makes it look easy, Phil Keoghan [host of The Amazing Race] makes it look easy, and that’s the beauty. … We can’t draw eyeballs to us, we have to draw the eyeballs to the [contestants].
What have you learned from Big Brother?
I’ve learned so much, [including] not to take myself so seriously [and] you can’t judge others. Of course, with [the Big Brother contestants], that’s what everyone does. It’s like high school, junior high school sometimes. These are all young kids trying for something — maybe it’s fame, maybe it’s money — maybe it’s someone who’s not so young who is going through a divorce and needs money to provide for her children. At the end of the day, you cannot judge the decisions someone makes in the Big Brother house or in life because you haven’t walked in their shoes.