CNWK, a brainchild of Sharma's, went on air on June 27, 2013 with veteran actor Dharmendra as its first guest. To everyone's surprise, it fetched a viewership of 6.9 television viewership in millions (TVMs) in its first episode (Source: TAM data provided by channel, Market: HSM, C&S, 4+). It was a major relief for Colors, just coming off its failure of reality humour show, Nautanki - The Comedy Theatre.
Colors' courageous move to experiment with the genre again has paid off handsomely. According to Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors, once the channel identifies a need gap, it approaches it with the principle of creating the best entertainment, experimenting with ways to create a lasting impression with consumers. Is that what keeps CNWK ticking away merrily?
Sharma was approached by Colors to co-host the celebrity dance reality show, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa. It was during the talks that the channel showed interest in doing a comedy show. Sharma, who had the concept in mind for three years told them all about it. That is how K9 Productions (Sharma's production company) and CNWK took birth. The show is being co-produced by SOL Production.
Sharma, who shot to fame when he won The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in 2010 (Star One) and has also featured in several seasons of Comedy Circus (Sony Entertainment TV), had always worked on formats created by someone else but wanted to do something on his own. "Even though my screen presence at that time was just for 10-15 minutes, people liked me, loved me. But there were many other things that I could do. I used to interact with my audiences when I used to shoot on-ground," says Sharma. Today, CNWK has revived the comedy non-fiction genre.
THE STAR HIMSELF
Kapil Sharma and his show have been so popular that there are tee shirts, mugs, clocks in the market that have the iconic dialogues of the show - 'Babaji ka thullu' and 'Ittu sa tha'. Besides there are 'Babaji ka thullu' chips and Kapil Sharma churans being sold.
In an interesting event, Narendra Modi, while campaigning for the recent elections, commented that Rahul Gandhi will soon replace Kapil Sharma. Says Sharma, ''I feel it's a compliment. I feel happy about the fact that two prime ministerial candidates are taking my name and fighting.''
Sharma himself will be seen acting very soon. He has signed a three-film deal with Yash Raj, for which he'll begin shooting. His debut is a thriller-comedy, Bank-Chor.
Though Sharma (he plays Bittu Sharma on the show) is the main pull, CNWK's success should also be attributed to the fabulous supporting cast, comprising his wife Manju (played by Sumona Chakravarti), his grandmother Dolly (played by Ali Asgar), his aunt Pinky (played by Upasana Singh), his servant Raju (played by Chandan Prabhakar) and his neighbours Gutthi (played by Sunil Grover who quit the show to launch Mad In India with Star Plus) and Palak (played by Kiku Sharda).
Interestingly the three females roles are enacted by males to add the 'extra-humour'. The production house wanted an elderly woman to play dadi but went on to sign Asgar as they thought that an old woman might not be able to shoot erratic hours when most of the shooting took place. Like Grover who had played a female earlier, Asgar too had done so in another comedy reality.
The show more often than not, leaves its audiences in splits. Besides the regulars, CNWK has invited celebs like Shweta Tewari, Raju Shrivastav, Gaurav Khera and integrated them in the gags. A team of 25-30 people in the creative team work on the show. Around 70 per cent of the gags are scripted, while the rest are impromptu.
CNWK, which is a bi-weekly, contributes an average of 11 per cent to the channel's overall gross TV viewership. Says Nayak, "We have a strong vote of confidence from our audiences that they are enjoying the property week on week. The 10 pm weekend time slot has become synonymous with the show, which has boosted the overall weekend performance of our channel. CNWK has been the top-rated non-fiction show and also the highest viewed on weekends."
CNWK has cut across all demographic and psychographic boundaries and is consumed by all with the same level of enthusiasm. During the initial phase, however, viewership was skewed to females across all age groups from the upper SECs. As it progressed, it started appealing to both males and females and across SECs.
Compared to the initial stage, male viewership in the slot has gone up by 300 per cent. According to Dhirendra Singh, AVP, Head Planning at the media agency, BPN, CNWK's contribution to the comedy non-fiction genre has increased from 55 per cent last year to 70 per cent this year. "Its rating grew 35-40 per cent since last year and it's undoubtedly the No 1 show in the genre. Amidst the cluttered content on TV it stands out because of aesthetically delivered comedy. Celebrity engagement in each episode further keeps the content alive and fresh. However, the challenge is to sustain it. Innovation is the key to survive" Singh adds.
CNWK has attracted many advertisers. Though it doesn't sell title and associate sponsorship, the ad inventory is full. According to estimates, when the show was launched the channel was selling the ad inventory at Rs 70,000-90,000 per 10 seconds. It has gone up to Rs 2-2.5 lakh.
Interestingly, categories like high-end 4-wheelers, usually active on the niche, English genre, have come on the channel only because of CNWK, says the channel, citing examples of Mercedes and Audi. About 30 new clients have come on board post the launch. They include Etihad Airways, Caratlane Trading, WeChat, Red Bull and Line Corporation.
Giving an advertiser's perspective on investing in the show, Vikram Grover, VP and head marketing - India & South Asia, Tata Global Beverages says, "It is one of the few programmes which has appointment viewing on weekends. In a very unpredictable world, it adds predictability to our plans." Shekhar Banerjee, SVP, Madison Pinnacle (which handles Cadbury) is of the view that the show might be taking away share from Sab TV (the comedy entertainment channel from Multi Screen Media). He believes that CNWK is stronger as a reach builder for brands. "Comedy non-fiction - not just in India - are driven by personalities just as Sharma is driving CNWK."
The 'celeb' factor
Colors had planned 13 episodes initially. After CNWK's success, the channel extended it to 32 episodes, and asked Sharma to continue till he and his team were okay with it. Since then, the show has aired 76 episodes featuring 108 celebrities. While most of these celebrities have shot one episode each for a movie with Sharma, biggies like Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan were seen in two consecutive episodes. The show's highest rated episodes, so far, have been Salman Khan's with 11.4 TVMs and 11.8 TVMs respectively and Bachchan's episode that recorded a rating of 11.1 TVMs. The lowest rated episode were those with Prabhudeva and Girish (5.2 TVMs), Huma Qureshi and Nawazuddin (5.3 TVMs) and Farah Khan (5.3 TVMs).
The show has also had sports personalities like Vijendra Singh (wrestling), Jwala Gutta (badminton), Sunil Gavaskar (cricket) and Sania Mirza (tennis). Television actors like Tina Dutta, Avika Gor, Smita Bansal, Usha Nadkarni and Renuka Israni have also appeared on the show. As have choreographers Remo D'Souza and Terrance Lewis, singers-music composers Mika, Anu Malik, Sunidhi Chauhan, Sonu Nigam, Daler Mehndi, Gurdaas Maan and news anchor Rajat Sharma.
When it started off with CNWK, Colors had not gone in for any innovations to promote the show like it had done with its other reality properties. "Now, CNWK is promoted through on-air promos on the home channel and across digital platforms. The show enjoys a great fan following on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter," Nayak adds.
CNWK is a classic example of word-of-mouth publicity, off and online. The Comedy Nights With Kapil app has been downloaded 1.6 million times. The episodes have been among the most watched videos on YouTube with an average of 1-1.5 Million views per episode. With nine millions fans on Facebook, Nayak's words bear out. According to Navin Khemka, managing partner, Zenithoptimedia (that handles Honda, OLX and Nestle) there is not much to see at 10 pm slot on weekends and CNWK offered a good option. "It, in a way, celebrates the success of people who have worked hard to achieve what someone like Sharma has achieved. They can relate to him."
Talking about why it is popular with advertisers, Kishan Kumar Shyamalan, client director, Maxus Bangalore says, "Advertisers get a show which is garnering good ratings. Also, they need a good mix of content, programming, variety and market skews that Comedy Nights offers. Another good part about the show is the audience interaction - rarely seen in the genre. Asianet recently launched a show called Badai Bungalow, which is a similar format. Running in Kerala, the show is doing very well." He adds that though there is competition, a show like Comedy Circus features the same faces, has predictable gags and has stagnated.
The not-so-funny moments
The show was first dragged into controversy when Grover (Gutthi on CNWK) decided to quit citing remuneration issues. While it didn't really impact CNWK's viewership, Grover went on to join Star Plus to launch Mad In India, also featuring Manish Paul. Mad In India was able to create a buzz initially, backed by the popularity of Grover, but it lost the plot later on and is believed to be wrapping up soon. While Mad in India's opening episode clocked 5.7 TVMs, the average is around 2.2 TVMs now.
The second thing that blew CNWK off - literally - was when a fire broke out on its sets in September 2013. As an immediate solution, Colors transformed the set of Bigg Boss in Lonavala overnight to give it a look of a village house wherein two-three episodes of the show were shot. The new set took 21 days to be prepared in Filmcity, Goregaon, Mumbai.
Many argue that Sharma's jokes have become predictable, that Palak's 'oooo' has become repetitive and that the show needs to reinvent itself if it wants to survive. According to Shyamalan, "It's difficult to be 100 per cent fresh but then the way you say it each time and how the different celebrities will react to it, makes it fun."
Reinvention is underway. The production house is looking at changes in the format. One could get to see more characters or there may be a change in the way the set looks. CNWK will complete 100 episodes soon and there are expectations that the audience will get to see the difference after that.
A Note From the Editor
I got to know about the popularity of Comedy Nights With Kapil (CNWK) quite by accident some months ago. At a dinner with friends, someone cracked a joke which had everybody in splits. I was the only one in the room who hadn't got the allusion to something Kapil popularly said on his show. Everyone else had.
As CNWK heads towards completing a year in June, one has to marvel at the extraordinary - and continuous - success of the non-fiction comedy show. It is a genre which has seen hardly any successes in India.
The ultimate dream of anybody in the TV business is to create a show which sees appointment viewing - a show the audience likes so much that it plans to watch it rather than stumbles upon it. The Indian reality is that other than major sports events (read: cricket) only soaps command that kind of loyalty. Unlike the West, there is no concept of seasons when it comes to soaps, so there are no breaks. And since soaps run on a daily basis, they fit into the daily routine and are habit-forming.
For shows that don't appear daily, appointment viewing is virtually unattainable. For a relatively young show like CNWK to accomplish that in spite of featuring only on Saturday and Sunday is quite a feat.
Since India is primarily a single-TV set household, people often end up watching shows that someone else in the home is watching - and not because they are engrossed. Since viewers do not have a personal screen, how do advertisers know, for example, that CNWK gets appointment viewing? In any case why is it so important?
For one, a relatively high proportion of appointment viewing assures advertisers of audience involvement. It is not uncommon for viewers to stick to a show even when they no longer enjoy it: they can flee en masse if a new show catches their eye. Loyalty prevents this.
Since there is no specific data on appointment viewing how do planners know that CNWK enjoys it? They go by three criteria. One, they find that the show's ratings are steady. Two, the time spent on the show is high. And lastly, they find that as soon as the show begins, viewers begin migrating from other channels.
Colors and Kapil Sharma clearly have a good thing going.