Is Generations broken for good?

2014-09-07 15:00

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Mfundi Vundla has decided that the Generations cast is sacked, finish and klaar.

Of course, it’s not the first time a cast has challenged a producer. In a television parallel 30 years ago, the cast of US smash hit Dynasty battled mogul producer Aaron Spelling and ABC. And it broke the show.

In the infamous “Moldavian Massacre” scene, the entire Dynasty cast was gunned down at a wedding at the end of the fifth season in 1985. Viewers didn’t know who would live and who would die – the result of the actors being fed up with portraying a fictional high society life envied by viewers, but in fact not shared by them or the actors in real life.

With the behind-the-scenes drama at the soap becoming a life-and-death duel, the producers were willing to axe anybody from Dynasty daring to ask for more money – with the exception of superstar Joan Collins (Alexis Carrington), who walked away anyway.

“I was considered one of the most popular actresses on television, but I wasn’t getting paid as I should have,” Collins told TV Guide at the time. She simply refused to go back to work until her contract was renegotiated.

The same sentiment was echoed recently by Generations’ Sophie Ndaba, who is and always will be our queen, at the cast’s emotional press conference.

Fantasy over

After tense renegotiations, the rest of the cast of Dynasty (except two) was also back – but the show was never the same again.

Its popularity declined, the ratings slipping instantly. The fantasy was shattered; the illusion broken. While millions still watched when the stars returned, they knew the dream was over. The characters’ lives no longer seemed as glamorous and enviable.

South Africa’s TV soaps, with juggernaut Generations leading the charge, were on the same inexorable ascent – our soap stars showing us not just what the new South Africa and its possibilities for climbing the ladder of wealth were, but who we could be.

In 1994 when Generations started, Queen Moroka was a lowly secretary. Over the next 21 years, the character – “hello darling!” – worked hard, married rich, became an entrepreneur and turned into regal Queen, the businesswoman mogul and the black diamond epitome of South Africa’s new, aspiring middle class.

They are – or perhaps were – our rock stars. As our nouveau riche politicians started to fail us, as our sports stars like Bafana Bafana started to fail us, the Generations characters stayed true. Our soap stars kept showing us the extravagant side of life, and we loved them for it.

The real deal

But South African soap viewers no longer want the unbridled portrayal of soap stars draped in designer gowns and sipping Champagne. Take a second look at Muvhango. It’s a Venda soap, but you may miss that distinction as gilded, beautiful people in designer clothes glide over marble floors in mansions – and that’s just the intro.

Where is the soap portrayal of working class families struggling to make it?

The primetime soaps and dramas working now, connecting with viewers and finding a growing audience, are those showing the harsh realities of the real South Africa.

Ironically, Generations’ Connie Ferguson – the beloved Karabo – is on TV, but no longer living the high life. She’s Mavis in Mzansi Magic’s Rockville, the struggling but strong single mother with doek, representing the real social and economic cornerstone of South African society. It’s the new flock of primetime drama – from Isibaya and Zabalaza, to Saints and Sinners – that viewers relate to now.

How the Generations shocker will affect what viewers prefer to watch from now is anyone’s guess. What is clear is that even for local soaps, the time has come to go lighter on the melodrama and put down the Champagne.

It’s difficult watching the soap star you secretly wanted to be drinking Moët when you know that in real life they can only afford JC Le Roux.

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