- There are over 3 500 signatures on an online petition to save the SABC2 weekday soap 7de Laan.
- In January, the channel announced that the soapie would be cut down from five to three episodes per week from April.
- About the cut, Danie Odendaal productions said: "We can only wait and see what the effect of the three days a week is going to be on viewership figures."
In response to a fast-growing petition to save the SABC2's Afrikaans weekday soap 7de Laan in its weekday timeslot, the show says it makes "absolute sense" that viewers are disturbed over the SABC's shocking decision.
SABC2 plans to cut 7de Laan down from five to three episodes per week from April in the 18:00 timeslot. The Venda weekday soap Muvhango is also getting axed from 5 to 3 episodes per week from August in its 21:00 timeslot.
After a Cape Town viewer, Jermaine Christians started a "Keep 7de Laan on air for 5 days! Save 7de Laan" online petition on change.org, public support has seen it surge to close to 3 500 signatures and comments just over a week later.
SABC2 plans to replace 7de Laan on Thursdays and Fridays with a new Cape Town-set call centre drama series in Afrikaans and Xhosa titled Die Sentrum produced by Penguin Films that is currently in production.
Danie Odendaal Productions filming 7de Laan at Sasani Studios in Johannesburg tells Channel24 that upset viewers who are angry about the weekly frequency cut to episodes are justified in how they're feeling about SABC2's decision to downscale the number of episodes.
"7de Laan is a soap that has been part of South Africans' lives for almost 21 years. We are part of millions of TV viewers' homes and family time and most South Africans at some point in the lives have interacted with 7de Laan," the show says in response to a media enquiry asking what the producers are making of the petition.
"It makes absolute sense that viewers are disturbed over the news of the scheduling change."
Cast, crew and freelance workers on both 7de Laan and Muvhango who don't want their names mentioned since they fear possible repercussions from speaking out publicly while still working on these shows, say they are scared of losing work, and that SABC2 costs them income especially during the tough economic environment worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic.
About people attached to these shows who will be working less because of SABC2's decision, Danie Odendaal Productions says that "for now the scheduled times remain unchanged because we are still expected to deliver the number of episodes as agreed upon for the 22nd season in the contract with the SABC. As a result, the staff's working hours and budget have been adjusted to what it is currently".
When the soaps are reduced to three episodes per week, after a Wednesday's episode, viewers will have to wait four days before a new episode of 7de Laan or Muvhango on SABC2 with both that will be more days off-air than what the serialised soaps will actually be on-air.
Schedule interruptions like this usually have a debilitating impact on shows' ratings since viewers tend to drift and forget to return when their TV routine or viewing pattern gets disturbed.
Where and when cliffhangers appear, usually on a Friday - with for instance a shot fired, an explosion or a shocking revelation to keep viewers buzzing, engaged, pondering and to help keep a show top of mind and to drive them back on a Monday - will also have to change.
"We can only wait and see what the effect of the three days a week is going to be on viewership figures," says 7de Laan. "We're just thankful that for the biggest part of the week we'll still get the opportunity to entertain South Africa".
'A diverse drama offering'
The SABC in a statement says that the "change forms part of SABC2's channel strategy to increase and diversify its drama offering and provide audiences with entertaining, fresh, diverse and relevant local content".
The SABC also says that "it must be noted that the SABC's programming strategy is informed by viewership statistics as supplied by the Broadcast Research Council of South Africa (BRCSA). This industry body measures the success and popularity of TV programming in South Africa that the SABC considers when making any programme decisions".
"Viewers can therefore be assured that they will not lose 7de Laan as it will still broadcast from Mondays to Wednesdays."