Julie Chen said CBS had her back against a wall when it came to how her career would play out on the network. In a new interview, the longtime Big Brother host revealed that 20 years ago, she initially turned down the hosting gig for the CBS summertime reality show, only to be given a thinly veiled threat regarding her future at the network should she not take the job.
Chen had been working as the network morning newsreader for The Early Show for only nine months when she was approached about hosting Big Brother.
"I asked if taking this job would forever seal the door shut for me to become a 60 Minutes correspondent and when I was told 'probably,'" Chen told Entertainment Weekly, "I said then that makes my decision easy and I turned down the job. Then I was told if I didn't take it, it could technically be assigned to me and if I didn't do it, it could be considered insubordination."
With no choice but to take the job, Chen was the host when Big Brother debuted on July 5, 2000 in a six-night-a-week format based on the Dutch version of the reality show.
During the first season of the U.S. version of Big Brother, the houseguests shacked up in a sparsely decorated house and had a backyard vegetable garden and a chicken coop for eggs. In addition, viewers – and not the houseguests – were in charge of voting out the contestants that season.
Chen said Big Brother producers quickly learned that American audiences voted out the controversial people because they "didn't like the troublemakers, even though they made the show interesting."
The audience didn't like Chen so much either.
"The reviews of me were not good," the Big Brother host admitted.
The CBS star added the show's ratings were decent enough, so the network decided that -- if they changed some rules and had American producers take over -- Big Brother would be worth renewing for a second season.
"I just had to tap my inner Chenbot and make it my brand. By season 3 I found my way and the body glitter aisle. The rest is history," the Big Brother host said.
Chen has been the only host of the American version of Big Brother. She didn't even miss a beat when her husband, former CBS chairman Les Moonves, was fired from the network following misconduct allegations in 2018.
She made headlines that year not only for staying on at CBS to host Big Brother, but also for her name "change." Toward the end of Big Brother's 20th season, she signed off on a live edition of the show by using the name "Julie Chen Moonves," something she had never done previously. The sign-off was a clear message that she was standing by her man.
Production for the 20th anniversary season of Big Brother is beginning to take shape. There is no official word on when Big Brother 22 will make its debut on CBS, but there are rumors that a premiere date is being eyed for later this summer.