Alokananda Chakraborty & Prajjal Saha

Political satire: A new fad on television...

Why are news channels suddenly launching programmes in the genre of political satire? And do such programmes have a life beyond the elections?

Political satire, it appears, is the flavour of the month on news television. Be it Aaj Tak, STAR News or ZEE News, news channels are falling over one another to rope in popular actors and comedians to add eyeballs and boost their TVRs.

While Aaj Tak has inked a deal with mimic and anchor Javed Jaffrey for its show JBC (Javed Broadcasting Corporation), STAR News has brought in gag-bag Shekhar Suman for its election special Poll Khol. Likewise, ZEE News has signed up comedian Jaspal Bhatti for its show Khabar Tadka - Chunaav Ki Bhatti Se. Meanwhile, Sahara Samay is planning to relaunch its show Dharti Pakad, probably with a new host (actor Arshad Warsi, in all likelihood). Simultaneously, the channel is planning another political satire, this time with Gufi Paintal, Paasa Phenk Chunaav Dekh.

The big question is, why are news channels suddenly launching a slew of programmes in this genre? Alka Saxena, editor, ZEE News, views such programming as a means to bust news-induced clutter. "It's a move to find innovative ways to keep our viewers informed, and to break the monotony of news presentation," she says. Innovation that is directly linked to increasing viewership; that's how Rajesh Sheshadri of Aaj Tak, sees it. "The entire electronic news broadcasting industry is still at an evolving stage, and everyone is making efforts to find out innovative ways to increase their viewership," he says.

Sulina Menon, chief executive officer, north and east, Carat Media Services, agrees that the impact of these political satires is much higher than that of typical news presentations. But she also points out that these programmes don't make a big difference to a channel's TVRs. "At the end of the day, the television news channels are competing with the entertainment channels, and they certainly need to find out strategies and concepts to be in the competition," she reasons.

An interesting aspect of such programming is that almost all the rival news channels claim to have been the first to introduce the satire genre to newsrooms. For instance, NDTV claims that it is the pioneer of political satire in India, with its shows Gustaakhi Maaf (on NDTV India) and Double Take (on NDTV 24x7). Sahara Samay, on the other hand, insists that it was the first with Dharti Pakad.

"NDTV was the first to launch a programme in this genre, the only difference being that we used puppets instead of people," says Avinash Kaul, vice-president, strategic planning and marketing services, NDTV Media Ltd. Contrast this with what Arup Ghosh, HOD, Sahara Samay says: "An extensive survey report suggested that our target group, which is between 18 to 30 years of age, wanted some entertainment along with news and information. We did not jump onto the bandwagon by simply following somebody else's footsteps." Uday Shankar, editor and director news, STAR News, begs to differ. "None of these programmes running on the other news channels are satires," he insists, adding, "They are just mimicry and humour." Shankar also claims that Poll Khol is the only "real political satire" which also "fits into the character of the news channel".

Political satire as a programming idea might be novel, and with the elections just around the corner, every news channel worth its teleprompter has added a programme based on the genre into its schedule. But do such programmes have a life of their own, independent of election-centric programming? It's hard to say, considering none of the news channels seem to know what fate awaits their new satires once the elections are over. It goes without saying that audience response would dictate future course of action.

There is, however, hope for the genre. Gustaakhi Maaf, for instance, debuted as a two-minute programme in the run-up to the last assembly elections, but a receptive audience ensured that the programme evolved into a full-fledged, standalone 30-minute affair even after the elections. As Menon of Carat says, "With elections being the hot cake now, it is obvious that broadcasters would concentrate more on poll-related subjects. But these programmes certainly cannot be termed as ‘election specials' as they deal with lots of other topical issues as well."

While it may be too early to judge the fate of political satires on television, what is interesting is that the genre has always enjoyed popularity in print. Will television make successful inroads into one of print medium's last preserves? © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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