TV's hot new novelty

2015-01-25 19:00

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“As long as the plots keep arriving from outer space, I’ll go on with my virgins.” So said the famously pink madame of those irresistible and torrid pulpy novels Barbara Cartland.

South African viewers can expect an absolute avalanche of tempestuous, torrid television in the form of local telenovelas, filled with villains, crazy stories, innocent people led astray and hot romance in 2015.

Viewers finally seem ready for change when it comes to TV. It’s as if they’ve woken from a dream they’ve been too scared to let go of.

DStv’s Mzansi Magic experimented and found success with the local telenovela format in the past two years, and it all came to a head when SABC1’s Generations abruptly disappeared at the end of last year for a few months. Viewers realised they no longer needed to be shackled to a story on TV that never ends and to characters who (can) never change.

While viewers here love their weekday soapies, India and South America have for years been enthralled by a better and much-improved recipe – the telenovela (still, in essence, a soap, but one with a definitive ending).

The telenovela’s bigger appeal and success lies in its better benefits to both the viewer on the one hand, and the producer and the TV channel on the other. It still churns out bubbles of sex, family conflict and beautiful people caught up in impossible love, jealousy and hate, but it’s not a highbrow TV drama.

Instead of 13 episodes, it’s 300. And because it will end, it can build up to a huge climax.

And if it pops, let’s make a spin-off with one of the popular characters set in almost the same place, but now giving viewers the chance to explore that familiar character’s story.

It’s actually where M-Net went wrong with The Wild. What was a misbegotten soap should have been an exotic telenovela set on a game farm in Africa.

After M-Net axed the show, The Wild changed completely. Because the producers knew they were free to let the characters grow and go through crazy changes, they spent the last few months of the show doing just that – they upped the stakes, killed off leading characters, and allowed for dramatic and shocking story lines.

In the final scene, the show went out with a bang – literally – as Marang cradled the dead Itumeleng in her arms. This is classic telenovela stuff.

Mzansi Magic’s first telenovela, iNkaba – despite having a heavyweight cast and despite being South Africa’s first locally produced telenovela – was a bit of a flop. But the next one, the taxi telenovela Isibaya, has been a hit – to such a degree that Mzansi Magic, rightly or wrongly, decided to turn it into a soap opera. It also started stealing viewers – primarily from SABC1.

SABC2 told advertisers in June last year that it is working on its own new local telenovela, which it wants to start screening in a primetime slot in July. At the end of last year, also promised its first telenovela, with the working title of Gold Diggerz, which will start within months in the 8pm slot. It was deliberately scheduled right opposite SABC1’s wounded Generations The Legacy.

While Mzansi Magic is keeping its cards close to its chest, it’s basically a given that more telenovelas will emerge from that corner.

SABC1 promises a “fast-paced” telenovela in the form of Uzalo, which starts next month. It’s a King Lear-type story set in KwaMashu.

Brazil and Bollywood’s primetime melodramas are thriving. Perhaps this year, Joziwood will finally be on the cusp of bringing greater creativity to the schmaltz of our soaps.

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