The tug-of-war between reality shows and sitcoms

Published: July 11, 2011
Which form of entertainment do Pakistanis prefer? 

Which form of entertainment do Pakistanis prefer? . ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID


In an attempt to explore how trends and preferences towards television shows are changing, The Express Tribune dug out facts and figures regarding what the locals are going for. The nagging question was whether it is the increasingly popular reality TV shows which suit the local taste buds or is it the age-old preference to sitcoms that still prevails in the country.

Reality shows — presenting supposedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations and actual events, usually with ordinary people instead of professional actors — have existed in some form or another since the early years of television programming. However, this genre exploded as a global phenomenon around 1999-2000, via television series such as “Big Brother” and “Survivor”.

Pakistan caught up with the trend much later when “George Ka Pakistan” was broadcast in 2005. The show, which revolved around British journalist George Fulton, who had three months to become a Pakistani, was a huge success nationwide.

However, conversation with the higher-ups in different media houses threw light upon the current trends. “Reality TV shows have become much more popular amongst the various strata of the society as they relate to the masses,” said Shanaz Ramzi, General Manager, Public Relations and Publications Hum Network.

While regretting the loss of talented comedians like Moin Akhtar and Jamshed Ansari, she also added; “Although, sitcoms haven’t lost their charm, it is difficult to get actors to do good comic roles.”

Meanwhile, Ramzi, who cites the increase in popularity of reality shows in Pakistan as a “western influence”, highlights that the general public, who had an intense fondness for the all-popular international reality shows like “Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”, also followed local production “Maachis” very closely.

Hum TV’s “Maachis” — which focused on day-to-day relationship issues — and TV One’s “Khawaja Naveed Ki Adalat” are glaring examples of how the masses not only participated in such shows, but also thoroughly enjoyed watching them, which was proven by the soaring ratings of these shows.

On the flip side, however, Azfar Ali, a Karachi-based director and TV artist behind some of the most groundbreaking productions of recent times, has a completely different opinion on where reality shows stand in our society. “Their popularity has massively declined. It’s wrong to say that we are glued to reality shows.”

While also pointing out the growing trend of watching sports, Ali is of the opinion that the general public is more interested in tuning in to the news and sitcoms instead of reality shows.

“Although there are people who are fond of watching ‘Kuan Banay Gaa Meerapati’ or ‘Desi Girl’, that is just because these are the only two reality shows that Pakistan is producing currently. If there were five or more shows of this genre going on air, then only could we’ve said that people in Pakistan are interested in watching them!”

Ali also rues the declining standards of locally-produced sitcoms, claiming that most of them are deprived of classy storylines and witty dialogues. “After producing some good sitcoms in the recent past, the Lahore team seems to have reached its saturation point now.”

Meanwhile, another TV producer Sameera Ehteram, who works for Aaj TV, is unable to hide her disgust for imitations of international shows.

She joins scores of critics, who have, in the past, vociferously spoken against duplicating content and the format of the widely-acknowledged international shows.

“We only duplicate and copy stuff excessively. For instance, ‘Kuan Banay Gaa Meerapati’ is a big laugh because we have made it on the lines of the Indian show ‘Rakhi ka Swayamwar’.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2011.

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