- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 December 2009 09.42 GMT
It was once one of Channel 4's most popular shows, and also its most controversial. Now the broadcaster is preparing to say goodbye to Celebrity Big Brother, which will conclude with its longest run - 27 days - when it launches on Sunday.
The famous Big Brother house has been given a makeover for the show's seventh and final season, with a look described by one visitor as a "tart's boudoir", which producers hope will help the show "go out with a bang".
Channel 4 has sought to keep the identities of this year's contestants tightly under wraps. Only one thing is certain - the lineup will definitely not include former Culture Club singer Boy George, who lost a court battle to take part in the show after he was banned from appearing by the probation service.
Celebrities rumoured to be taking part include Pamela Anderson, who recently appeared in Aladdin on the London stage, rapper MC Hammer and Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.
It will be only the second Celebrity Big Brother since the race row involving Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody that engulfed the show and Channel 4 in early 2007. The fallout from the row included more than 50,000 complaints to media regulator Ofcom and Channel 4, which was required to broadcast three apologies ahead of the subsequent series of the reality show.
This year's 10th series of Big Brother averaged around 2 million viewers, down from more than 5 million for its third and most popular season in 2002. It remains to be seen whether the format will be picked up by a rival UK broadcaster.
Channel 4 commissioning editor David Williams said the theme of the final celebrity series was "Dante's inferno - hell lies in others".
"We wanted to make it more moody and atmospheric and signal that it was going to be a little bit different," said Williams. "We pulled out all the stops and had some fun with it ... It's slightly gothic. A tart's boudoir? I wouldn't say that."
But celebrities will not face the prospect of being sent to "jail", the outdoor prison area which has featured in previous editions of the main Big Brother show. "Most of them have been in jail already," joked Williams of the new celebrity contestants.
The new series will feature 48 cameras including - for the first time - one in the middle of the coffee table to capture housemates' conversations in close-up.
There is a camera above the bath but only microphones in the toilet and shower area. The bedroom was the only area kept under wraps by Channel 4 yesterday. A mystery object - "it's quite big" - is also promised for the empty garden area.
All parts of the house has been given a makeover, including a stainless steel kitchen area that executive producer Shirley Jones said was inspired by a "hospital autopsy room". For the first time the celebrities will be able to bring as much luggage as they like, lifting a rule which restricted them to one suitcase each.
"It would be nice to go out with a bang," said Jones. "We want them to be challenged, [to see] how they cope with loss of control. Celebrities tend to be quite controlling in terms of their image and their lives. A lot of the time the show works best when it is entertaining and funny ... the more humiliating performance-based tasks."
But while it is Channel 4's final Celebrity Big Brother, it may still return on another channel. "Who knows?" said Jones. "It may well reappear some day. I have no idea."
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