Has the comedy genre come of age?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | May 17, 2004
Comedy, as a genre in television programming, is slowly but steadily attracting players who are keen on launching standalone comedy channels. Is the timing perfect?

A simple test: just think of your favourite Indian comedy show.

Now what comes to your mind? Is it the evergreen Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi or Ghar Jamai? Filmi Chakkar (which was essentially a countdown show) or Balaji Telefilms' Hum Paanch? Shriman Shrimati or Zabaan Sambhal Ke, the Hindi adaptation of popular English sitcom Mind Your Language? Dekh Bhai Dekh - which brought Shekhar Suman's flair for comedy to the fore - or actor-director Sachin Pilgaonkar's original saas-bahu special, Tu Tu Main Main? Or could it be Office Office or Yes Boss?

The list may seem endless, but the fact remains that there are only a few good comedies on television worth remembering. The rest hardly tickled the funny bone, much less the memory cells. "This is because comedies have not been handled too well," believes Atul Phadnis, vice-president and head of TAM Media Research. "They are either too slapstick or indulge in too subtle humour, which may not go down well with the bulk of the audience. If done in the right manner, comedies can be a mass phenomenon."

Apart from general entertainment channels, which telecast comedy shows as part of their programming mix, players such as SAB TV have attempted to specialize in the genre. However, it's not as if only SAB TV is taking comedy very seriously. News is that SAB has company (or rather competition) in the form of Smile TV, ZEE Telefilms' comedy channel, which is available on the DTH platform and is now being routed via cable as well. In other words, Smile TV is now part of ZEE's C&S bouquet, but is, interestingly, free-to-air. "It fills an important gap," says Ashish Kaul, vice-president, corporate brand development, Essel Group. "The ZEE bouquet did not have a comedy channel, so Smile TV occupies the slot. At the same time, it supplements the variety (of channels) on the DTH platform."

Unlike SAB, which has a one-hour current affairs band late in the evenings, Smile TV is being positioned as a 24-hour Hindi comedy channel with a programming mix that goes beyond sitcoms. "Comedy in India has been more or less restricted to sitcoms," says Abhijit Saxena, business head, Smile TV. "There is so much more to the genre than sitcoms, and we intend exploring it with out programming." Stand-up comedies, black humour, satires and hasya kavi sammelans are some initiatives being explored, Saxena adds. Presently, the channel airs comedy films and shows from the ZEE library, while its new shows are slated to go on air by next month.

Even as Smile TV attempts to get its act together, the moot point is why is the comedy genre attracting new players, and what is SAB TV doing to counter the offensive? Says Phadnis, "Mass entertainment genres have a tendency to break away to be standalones. Music, movies, news were once part of mass entertainment. But each one of them is a successful standalone today. The same applies to the comedy genre. It does have the potential to be a standalone, but there are riders attached." These include enough viewership, testing of new formats and concepts to see what works with whom, convincing advertisers of the value of the audience, and finally, distribution to ensure there is an entry point into viewer homes.

As a constituent of mass entertainment, comedies had a telecast time of 3 per cent in July 2003, says Phadnis, while share of viewership stood at the same level. "Compare it with soaps, and comedies are a small share of the mass entertainment pie," he says, but quickly adds, "It definitely can grow." According to Sandeep Singh, COO, Live Satellite Media, who was earlier vice-president, marketing, SAB TV, the genre does have the potential to attract viewers and advertisers alike. "Humour provides relief," he says, "And advertisers are willing to associate with humour-based properties."

Meanwhile, Kanta Advani, president, sales and marketing, SAB TV, indicates that the channel is looking to consolidate its position in the area of sitcoms and stand-up comedies. "We have a strong presence in both areas with properties such as Office Office and Yes Boss on the one hand, and Carryy on Shekhar - a stand-up comedy featuring Shekhar Suman - on the other. At this point, what we intend doing is exploring different shades of the two types of comedies, and beefing up prime time." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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