LAHORE: There was a time when prime time television in Pakistan meant the daily news hour. Soon the anticipation of the daily news hour was replaced by the excitement of evening dramas. This was the era when a single channel, the state owned Pakistan Television (PTV) reigned supreme and TV time spelt quality family entertainment time.
With the media boom and the subsequent explosion of TV channels of every orientation, a whole new culture of entertainment has germinated; a culture that has interestingly shifted the onus of prime time from dramas to morning shows. Morning shows have emerged as a genre of broadcast media that focused exclusively on women, for women and by women.
“This was a niche that needed to be filled in our local television networks. Globally all networks have mornings shows”, says anchor Ayesha Sana who hosts Meena Bazaar on PTV. “There are certain times in the morning when women are entirely free, having sent their children to school and their husbands to work,” explains Nadia Jamil.
“It’s the perfect time to engage with women and make them feel a part of the socio-political process,” says Jamil, who gained popularity due to her exuberant and politically charged personality. Judging by the sheer number of live calls, text messages and letters that inundate these morning talk shows, one can gauge the impact that these shows have on the lives of their female viewers. “Women pour their hearts out to us in their fan mail, “reveals Sana.
The fact that many female-oriented and household issues are brought up in these shows has been a distinguishing cause for the growth of these shows. Advertisers vie for the morning spots and in some cases have also become sponsors to the shows themselves, as was the case of’ Marina Mornings’ collaborating with Ariel washing powder
Even the religious channel has even started its own morning show! “I don’t think these shows would have been as successful if they weren’t live,” says Jamil, something that even Sana agrees with, “Dramas are a fantasy that most women cannot relate to but since we are live and practically inside their homes, women tend to feel a personalised connection.”
Targeted specifically to home makers, these shows discuss a range of issues from household and domestic problems to cooking, exercise and make up tips. Each show is then ranked depending on how well the host can keep their female audience engrossed. Keeping eyeballs glued to your screen means higher ratings, revenue and ultimate success.
The race for ratings does have its downside… there seems to be a disturbing trend towards sensationalism in morning shows with anchors going over the top to amuse their audiences with their outrageous and often overwhelming antics. This has been a common trend that anchors such as Nadia Khan and Shaista Wahidi began and now Maya Khan continue to capitalize on in an attempt to draw in a larger audience. “I am not judgmental and I follow my audience’s mood. I feel that there’s an immense responsibility on air so I try to get myself as educated as possible on a subject before I embark upon discussing it,” says Khan. Ironically, most hosts are seen discussing their own lives, fishing for compliments on their attire, and sometimes even wearing strange costumes and inciting conflicts on prime time to spark ratings. “The morning shows are trying too hard to have fun,” laments Hafsa Syed, Head of Features at Dawn News TV. “The shows are losing their essence which was to create awareness amongst women and have now become more about celebrities,”
This growing lack of substance in the morning shows has begun to bother the more refined viewership. An associate producer, who prefers to be remain anonymous confided: “Morning shows are a blatant mockery of our intelligence and a living testament that media gurus have sold their souls to commercialism.” Jalil, the Producer of Marina Khan’s ‘Marina Mornings’ states, “People are looking for mindless entertainment and therefore shows that focus on content, like Marina’s and the one hosted by Kiran and George, did not do well and were eventually taken off air.”
The general decline in the content of morning shows clearly shows that popularity and ratings are directly related to the amount of fluff a show contains. Reality is too much of a bitter pill to swallow. “It is a reflection of how inane and escapist our society has become that most people want to zone out from the world and its hideous realities,” remarks Jamil.
So what’s needed to keep the viewers on board without sacrificing content at the altar of ratings? “A way to reinvent the wheel and present content that is informative without being too obscure and too immense to keep women tuned in to the shows,” is the solution presented by Hafsah Syed from Dawn TV. No telling when that’ll be coming to a screen near you.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2011.