Monday, November 29, 1999

Midnight Madness

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Inane game shows and tele-shopping dominate the graveyard shift, but the revenue generated ensures that Indian television is not complainingPrattling anchors pose Bollywood riddles whose answers are just too easy, even for a five-year-old. They give too many hints and keep the prize money increasing. But the audiences do the impossible. They get it wrong, almost always. Tired of this, when one switches channels, tele-shopping programmes are bound to be on air—giving demo of bizarre products like Roopamrit (that makes you fairer than fair) and Surakasha Kawach (which protects you from the evil eye).Gone are the days when special shows and movies were slotted for the graveyard shift. Barring the reruns, it's the telemarketing and Bollywood game shows that dominate the pre and post-midnight viewing. Telephone numbers are flashed constantly, goading viewers to dial them for the big cash prize (between Rs 2,000 to Rs 85,000) or buy their products to get that perfect body. While these interactive game shows—like Bollywood Dhamaal and Cricket Howzzat —invite the viewers to solve way-too-easy puzzles related to cricket, Bollywood and others, the tele-shopping shows mostly on channels like Disney, Nickelodeon and Hungama are foreign programmes dubbed in Hindi. And most of the content on these channels is repeated night after night.However, the channels seem to believe in 'repeat value'. "There are three types of audience: the regular watchers, those who are drawn by certain television personalities and the third category who enjoy flipping through channels," says Pradeep Menon, executive vice-president, Cellcast. This production house is the brain behind programmes like Gold Safe, Bollywood Tambola and Cricket Howzzat on channels like Imagine Showbiz, NDTV Imagine, India TV, E-24, Zee TV and UTV Bindaas. "These shows generate viewers' interest by making the game lucrative, by increasing the amount of prize money every few minutes," he says.One would think that the followers of such programmes would mostly be Bollywood buffs or shopaholics or those who want to earn a quick buck. But there is another group of viewers, who are mainly driven by curiosity. "These programmes work as a stress-busters for me as they are so amusing," says Ajay Prabhu, who finds it incredulous that the callers invariably fail to identify a very popular actor or cricketer. Getting through to the telephone line for the show takes a lifetime while the bill keeps mounting."I watched an episode of Tambola on Imagine Showbiz where the close-up of Rani Mukherji's eyes was displayed on screen. It was quite evident from the photo. Even then the host gave a lot of hints about her such as 'Raja ka opposite kya hai', 'Dil bole hadippa', 'Karan Johar and Shahrukh Khan ki favourite' and so on. It was difficult to understand why nobody could get the answer right," says Prabhu, who suspects that the programme could just be a farce.But Menon begs to differ. "On an average, at least one person wins one contest. On a good day, one show can have as many as four winners," he says and vouches for the popularity of such shows. That's the reason his new show Insomnia, an entertainment-cum-interactive game show, is going to be launched on Zee TV.Why so many tele-shopping shows are on air these days post 11 pm is a mystery. They try to entice the viewers by demonstrating their products followed by testimonials from buyers. For instance, a slim lady shows off her abs which are a result of using 'Lose Your Love Handles', a fitness machine, and goes on to talk about her 20 kilo weight loss. Another pretty woman presents her freckle-free face, which is the result of using Bamboo Intensive Whitening Cleanser. "When something like a Slender Shaper is demonstrated on TV, you are hooked to it by default," says Sheetal Karmarkar, an advertising professional. "When they say that all you need to do is wear it and you lose weight by virtue of vibration, you are obviously tempted to buy it," she adds.Such programmes benefit all parties concerned including the channels airing them. Channels to get paid a fee for time on air although Nikhil Madhok, creative head, NDTV Imagine says that all content is handled strictly by the production house and not the channel. "We only provide them a slot to air their programme. Imagine is in no way involved with the mechanics," he says. The content provider for these game shows make their cut from cell phone companies, since only calls made from mobile phones are eligible, at the cost of Rs 12 per minute. "We receive our share after 120 days because the revenue goes directly to the cell phone company. They take 50 to 60 per cent of the profit. We get the rest," says Menon.With lolly rolling in, the quality of late night programmes probably has taken a backseat.

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