Behind the scenes at Uzalo

2015-01-18 15:00

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Viewers of Mzansi Magic, e.tv and SABC will be the ultimate winners of a developing TV war

One of President Jacob Zuma’s daughters, Gugulethu Zuma-Ncube, may have bitten off a little more than she can chew if sources on the set of her epic new production Uzalo are to be believed.

Zuma-Ncube is risking it all with a high-budget show that finds itself a key player in a primetime TV war that is set to grip viewers from next month.

While e.tv’s new telenovela Gold Diggers takes on Generations: The Legacy in the 8pm to 8.30pm slot on a Monday, the same slot will host a battle of the telenovelas.

Telenovelas are epic night-time soapie-like dramas that generally end their story arcs within a year.

Uzalo launches on SABC1 on February 9 in a bid to give pay-channel Mzansi Magic’s popular Isibaya (a telenovela turned daily drama) a run for its money.

Uzalo will screen on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while Isibaya is flighted Mondays to Fridays.

Both family heritage sagas play out mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and both started out billed as telenovelas.

By snagging national treasure Leleti Khumalo and poaching the actor who plays Isibaya’s villain, Bheki Mkhwane, Uzalo makes no bones about how competitive the action will be.

In Uzalo, Mkhwane will play the good guy. The KwaMashu-born actor, producer and playwright is not completely lost to Isibaya viewers because he will still appear as the incarcerated taxi boss Samson Ndlovu.

The real question is whether Uzalo will be able to match Isibaya in screen value.

Word in the industry is that the show has experienced serious teething problems.

The R50?million show is the brainchild of a consortium led by Zuma-Ncube.

She is best known as an actress and has recently reportedly trained under American film producer Tyler Perry.

Muvhango producer Duma Ndlovu and producer-presenter Pepsi Pokane round out the team behind the country’s biggest new show.

City Press this week spoke to numerous sources currently or previously working on Uzalo, all of whom insisted on remaining anonymous. They told of high drama in the Uzalo script department, with head writers coming and going at an alarming rate.

After working with four or five different teams, Uzalo now credits Ndlovu as head writer.

The conflicts, sources told City Press, had mostly to do with Zuma-Ncube’s alleged interference in storylines. On set, word is that the early scripts were flawed and that there have been several reshoots, resulting in the production running months behind schedule.

“Uzalo has a solid writing team in place and is currently in discussion to employ a head writer. Uzalo has had creative differences with two writers and parted with both on amicable terms. In pursuit of excellence we have employed a capable team of writers to deliver on our content vision,” said the show’s production company, Stained Glass Pictures.

There was praise for the honing of talents and skills in KwaZulu-Natal, though.

“Uzalo is produced entirely in KZN and has employed creative capital and infrastructure of the province in producing this telenovela. Out of a cast and crew of 102 personnel, 40% comprise KZN-based cast and crew,” said Stained Glass.

Uzalo’s publicist told City Press: “Uzalo explores the lives of two children switched at birth – the child of a priest and that of a gangster – and the impact of that on their lives and families, the criminally minded Xulus and the God-fearing Mdletshes.”

This is just the start of telenovela fever for lucky viewers. The SABC’s newest requests for proposals include more of the format that has gripped global markets.

*This article has been corrected. City Press initially incorrectly stated that the KwaZulu-Natal government had partly funded the production and that its budget was R80 million. We regret the error.

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