Magic box or idiot box

Published: December 8, 2013
The writer is an actor, an anchor and a model. She is currently the host of ‘Morning with Juggun’ on PTV Home and can be reached via twitter @JuggunKazim

The writer is an actor, an anchor and a model. She is currently the host of ‘Morning with Juggun’ on PTV Home and can be reached via twitter @JuggunKazim

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have Mr Tauqeer Nasir, a famous actor, on my morning show. We were discussing the golden years of PTV and he used the word “magic box” for the television set. This made me think: when did the magic box become the idiot box? I remember being a kid and only having the option of watching PTV or NTM. My siblings and I waited all day to watch “Sesame Street” in the early evening and woke up extra early to watch Mustansar Hussain Tarar’s morning show before going off to school. Back then, television carried quality programming and each show reflected the immense effort and love that had gone into its production.

Today, the situation is very different. One cannot even bear to switch on a local channel. The programming ranges from shaadi and jinn/bhoot weeks on morning shows to screeching politicians on current affairs shows. Actual interviews are few and far between. Instead, anchors seem to go out of their way to humiliate their guests and sometimes tragically themselves as well. News channels consider even a cow getting stuck in a bush to be breaking news. And if there is a bomb blast or natural disaster, the focus is on showing blood, gore and guts to an already traumatised, frightened audience. There needs to be PG ratings for news channels nowadays. I remember one time when my son, Hamza, watched coverage of a bomb blast for all of five minutes at his grandmother’s house. He was so terrified he couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks.

Then there is the decaying drama industry that seems to focus mostly on the affairs of married people. The stories are awful and the production values are worse. There is little regard for character development and the same few locations get repeated over and over again. No wonder, Turkish dramas have swept up a large chunk of the drama-watching audience. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much a part of this media industry and I am not slamming everyone in it. We still have actresses like Sania Saeed and Nadia Jamil, who make us proud by refusing to compromise their talent for money. But I know, unfortunately, I have compromised on the quality of programming for higher ratings in the past. I recently watched a serial I had done two years ago and was horrified at both my performance and the production of the project. So much for wanting to be an ‘A’-grade actor and winning an Oscar!

As a young girl, all I wanted was to be an actor. Now when I look at the product I put out there, I wonder if I made the right choice. When I started, my inspiration was PTV dramas like “Tanhaiyan” and “Dhoop Kinaray” and Indian movies like Lamhe and Arth. Where does one look to now for motivation? Hollywood still has its charm but, at least for Pakistanis, it lacks the glamour of Bollywood. The Indian movie industry itself has moved for content towards songs, dance and ever skimpier costumes.

The other side of the story is that viewers themselves have little interest in intellectually stimulating content. After all, why do shaadi weeks and jadoo weeks get the highest ratings? Why are husband and wife infidelity dramas so popular?

Our film industry came to a crashing end a few decades ago and I fear the TV industry may be headed the same way. The problem is that while we live in an age where sex sells, we are in no position to compete with foreign content. We do not have the option of joining the race to the bottom. Instead, we have to compete by making interesting, character-driven stories that people want to watch. Competing on the basis of quality is difficult. But the golden age of PTV reminds us that our artists are capable of matching up with the best that the world has to offer. And if we did it once, I’m sure we can do it again. Who knows, we may again start thinking of television as a ‘magic box’.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Parvez
    Dec 9, 2013 - 12:22AM

    On TV we still have flashes of brilliance……..but few and far in between. On the whole I agree to all that you have said.
    In my personal capacity I have drastically cut down watching TV.


  • Lala Gee
    Dec 9, 2013 - 1:19AM

    The only constant in this whole universe is “change”. The earlier we understand and accept this fact, the better we would be to position ourselves for meeting the requirements of the present time. You cannot bring back old time, and you cannot live your present in the past, simple as that. Things that were good and beautiful in your, and mine, golden age are now history, and present youth have no appreciation for that. A good example is the almost non-existent popularity of the re-runs of the PTV’s super hit serials, like “Tanhaiyan” and “Dhoop Kinaray” in the current youth. Every period has its own unique trends and requirements which our dumb media have completely failed to understand. A good example is the immense popularity of Turkish TV serials among the majority of the television viewers, which not only conquered the television market, but also captured the overwhelming viewership of the Indian movies as well. Unfortunately, our television is still trying to live in the past by following the past outdated trends (which you also nostalgically cherish so much). Our film industry failed to learn this lesson, and eventually failed itself. Same would also happen with our television if they don’t learn this reality, and learn it fast. Either you live in the present and adopt current trends, or be part of the history and embrace extinction. Choice is ours.


  • farooq
    Dec 9, 2013 - 3:57AM

    I agree with the Juggun, the quality of the content on Pakistani TV has gone down a lot.


  • salmam
    Dec 9, 2013 - 5:39AM

    Plot, plot and plot. Get a good story, or rather get an original story and people will tune in. Rehash the same old stories and people will tune out.


  • Zufishan Ghani
    Dec 9, 2013 - 11:33AM

    Taking a holistic view of the idea, yes, absolutely agreed. However, being a young viewer, may I remind Juggan that one can certainly not deny a generation of their taste and gustoes? You cannot just inject the previous generation’s flavour into our mouths. A large segment of this generation is away from classicism. We truly have no sense of how classic theatre, novels and drama hold beauty within. It’s hard for us to perceive that sobriety as it ought to be, whereas, we’re much in affinity with the contemporary storylines and drama- no matter how horrid they be- albeit they’re NOT. Soaps like Humsafar, Zindagi Gulzar Hai, Fareiha and FatmaGul are what conform to our taste. I’m pretty sure the comedy of Fifty-Fifty would fail to entertain us.

    Nonetheless, in context of our TV industry’s failure, yes, the magic box with gems is MISSING and MISSED.Recommend

  • Ayesha
    Dec 9, 2013 - 11:40AM

    The reason is dumping of Indian soaps and other content on the local market that has obliterated local production. Indian media content is given for free for airing on Pakistani channels. Now which local production company can compete with this? The Competition Comission of Pakistan and PEMRA should look into this.Recommend

  • Noreen
    Dec 9, 2013 - 11:55AM

    and blogs nowadays are about criticizing or whining…. i felt i tuned in to one of our Pakistani talk shows, where the host and the guest are super human beings and rest of the world is wrong about everything….thumbs up


  • Ahsan Raza
    Dec 9, 2013 - 12:17PM

    I think Television like all other mediums is a reflection of the society. Which is why it pains me to say this but Pakistan is intellectually bankrupt. Nobody was paying attention to the howlers that insisted that arts and literature should be promoted in Pakistan. Instead we marched on in our pursuit for business and engineering degrees. You reap what you sow

    But on the other hand television and films are intellectually bankrupt every where else too. Michael Bays’ transformers and fast and furious franchise have amassed billions and they are complete trash. I believe the investor/producer has to be the one who should take risks. If they are willing to do that then we’ill get gems like breaking bad, Game of thrones etc.

    Anyway well written article, I appreciate the honesty in your self assessment.


  • Really?
    Dec 9, 2013 - 7:20PM

    @Ahsan Raza:
    Ah so the problem was that Pakistan was marching forwards towards science and business, so it cold not pay attention to arts? So what is the status of science and business then? Water car?


  • Bilal
    Dec 9, 2013 - 7:22PM

    ” I remember one time when my son, Hamza, watched coverage of a bomb blast for all of five minutes at his grandmother’s house. He was so terrified he couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks.”
    Mummy Daddy Bacha.Teach him how to face the grim realities of life.Don’t hide things from him.
    When it comes to sexual education,these media people go nuts and say that children should be educated right from the beginning and on the other side they don’t even want their children to know what is happening around them.


  • FaiselH
    Dec 9, 2013 - 11:12PM

    We live in times when ‘contradictions’ of all size and color are all around us.
    The ‘magic box’ lost its allure long time ago.
    Its definitely the ‘idiot box’ now.
    The quality of the content is sickening.
    Where the News,filled with sarcasm with Indian songs, becomes the norm with non professional producers, it becomes infotainment, than news, and the least said the better.
    The ‘idiot box’ seems to be taken over by the producers of stage dramas.Recommend

  • Saquib
    Dec 10, 2013 - 10:44AM

    Very Good article Juggun and I agreed with this, as I consider this box has an important role in developing good or bad culture like are these dance parties included in our culture? PTV morning shows still have same inspiration of family show but other shows are doing crap in the name of morning shows..Media is penetrating mostly bad habits to new generation as well… Our private channels are also showing Indian and Turkish programs why ? Are they not capable in producing good stuff. Film “Waar” is a good example of Pakistani talent then why we are depending for these material..Just for rating or intending to distract our own culture.
    Thanks for Good Article n God Bless u :)


  • Qaiser
    Dec 10, 2013 - 4:19PM

    Economics and technology are needed to change.

    This happened in US too, and now there is a 4th Golden Age of TV; with all the things that were present before and are desired now of TV programming (quality writing, production value, character development etc.).

    The link is here

  • Ahsan Raza
    Dec 10, 2013 - 4:33PM

    Well Pakistan has one of the highest rates in the world for churning out engineers and doctors. You are probably Indian, sounding by your unnecessary hostile undertones. There is more to Pakistan than guns and bombs, Pakistanis have always excelled in higher learning when given the chance.Recommend

  • Zufishan Ghani
    Dec 10, 2013 - 7:14PM

    You really and seriously need to break out of your confines and look around. If you’re a Pakistani, start resorting to local media; if foreigner, try sparing some time to the ‘enemy’ publications- to know how a 10th grader of Khairpur from Pak-Turk International School won a Silver for the removal of harmful pollutants from industrial waste water by the use of tea waste. Here’s the link for your convenience:

    … how ENGRO FOODS made it to one of the world’s leading brands
    … about Arfa Karim Randhawa- who calls for no introduction
    … about Rehan Allahwala..
    … about AKD
    … about Samar Mubarak Mand, Abdul Qadeer Khan
    … about Dr Mariam Sultana, the first Pakistani female PhD in Extragalactic Astrophysics from University of Karachi
    … about Sadia Manzoor who works with condensed-matter Physics in Islamabad and is currently doing research in Applications of Magnetic Nanostructures in Cancer Treatment
    … Dr Shamim who works at CERN in Geneva, doing research in quantum black holes

    You’re most welcome to get back to me if this inadequately satisfies you


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