Sapna Nair

In India, even reality is fiction

There has been a rush of reality shows on television of late and the one thing they all have in common is celebrity participants

The international edition of the popular format show, ‘Fear Factor’, puts participants in different bizarre situations. The Indian edition of this show does the same. But the Indian edition mostly has celebrities as participants, while the international episodes use ordinary people.

‘Fear Factor’ is not the only such show – there are several reality and format shows which use celebrities to hone their way to success. Shows such as ‘Nach Baliye’ and ‘Heartbeat’ on STAR One and ‘Jodi Kamal Ki’ on STAR Plus have all adopted a similar strategy.

India has thus very tactfully redefined and redesigned the concept of reality shows. In other parts of the world, the shows bring nameless faces on television, and that is a major reason for their popularity, but it works differently in India. Here, reality and format shows need known faces to support them.

So much so that when some of the reality shows, which initially began with celebrity participants, tried to switch over to ordinary participants later, their TVRs (television viewership ratings) dropped. ‘Fear Factor’ met with this fate. As per TAM Media Research, (C&S, 4+, Hindi Speaking Markets), the average TVR for the celebrity episodes of ‘Fear Factor’ was 3.32 (top five episodes) – this dropped to 2.33 (top six episodes) for the non-celebrity episodes.

The reason that is attributed to celebrity episodes doing better is that viewers like to watch celebrities doing unexpected things. They are intrigued by this completely different side to their favourite actor.

Anupama Mandloi, creative head, Sony Entertainment Television (SET), agrees that celebrity episodes tend to deliver better TVRs, but she points out at the same time that the format of the show is critical for its success.

Senior media planners such as Debraj Tripathi, general manager, Maxus, are also of the opinion that celebrities successfully draw viewers to the initial episodes, but the programme should have a stimulating format if it wishes to retain the viewership.

Of course, one can argue that another format show, ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (‘KBC’), did very well without celebrity participants. Although STAR Plus did line up celebrity participants from time to time for special episodes, the higher TVRs were obtained by episodes that had the participants winning the higher prize money amounts. But then, ‘KBC’ did have the biggest celebrity of them all, Amitabh Bachchan, anchoring it.

A senior media planner says, “Many a time, the celebrity episodes of reality shows are also assumed to be manipulated, which decreases the intensity level of the show.”

Shailja Kejriwal, creative director, STAR India, says, “We generally conceive these shows keeping either the celebrity or the common man in mind.”

Kejriwal cites the examples of ‘Nach Baliye’, which was a celebrity dance competition, and ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’, which was a hunt for fresh comic talent. “We could have had TV and film comedians competing with each other on the same platform, but we kept off celebrities, except for the judges.”

However, these shows also had to bring in celebrities as guests or special judges to get in the requisite glamour quotient.

Vikas Bahl, vice-president, content and communication, SAB TV, believes that for non-celebrity shows to do well, the viewer should be able to build an emotional attachment with the participants and get engaged in the show. That personal attachment then makes the viewer watch the show further. This was the kind of emotional engagement that ‘Indian Idol’ achieved.

About the celebrity value extending to non-celebrity episodes, Bahl says that it does not necessarily work. “It’s a Catch 22 situation,” he exclaims.

Bahl further says that with newer formats coming up, the need to feature a celebrity in shows will diminish and the content alone will get the numbers for the respective channels.

Hopefully, it will. But we don’t see it happening in the near future because all the reality or format shows that have been launched recently are banking on celebrities, even if they are from the small screen.

But then there are also shows that have failed to hook viewers even with celebrities, STAR One’s ‘Heartbeat’ being one of them.

© 2006 agencyfaqs!