It is arguably too early to say this, but 2013 could be the year that changed both Indian and international television forever. In February 2013, American internet streaming service Netflix premiered a political drama series, House of Cards, developed by Academy-nominated writer Beau Willimon, starring two-times Academy Award winning actor, Kevin Spacey, with the first episode directed by two-times Academy Award Best Director nominee, David Fincher, who is also one of the executive producers of the series (Phew! What a credit roll!).
Among the first few full-length, season-based series (generally called a ‘TV series’ but obviously not in this case) ever produced for the internet, House of Cards made history by becoming the very original first only series to be nominated for television’s highest honour, the Emmy Awards. Nominated for 14 Emmys, the series picked up two – for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series (won by David Fincher) and for Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series (Laray Mayfield/Julie Schubert).
Netflix, that was earlier an on-demand internet service for watching the latest in movies and TV shows, is one of the first few online distribution outlets that ventured into multi-episode, TV-length original programming with Norwegian-American series, Lilyhammer, in 2012. The moderate success of the show, along with the phenomenal success of House of Cards and the two shows Netflix followed it up with – prison comedy Orange is the New Black, and a fourth season of the cult comedy Arrested Development – has proved, once more, that content is king, no matter what form it is consumed in.
With video-sharing website Youtube, internet e-commerce giant Amazon, internet streaming service Hulu and even Microsoft’s online gaming service Xbox Live set to launch premium ‘web television series’, the future of content is already here. While television in its current form will not be obsolete anytime soon, the day when computer will be the new idiot box, bought instead of a television set to watch (ironically enough) ‘television content’ , is not that far away!
On the desi side of things, in October 2013, one of the most expensive television shows ever produced in India, the Anil Kapoor-starrer 24, an adaptation of the hit American TV series of the same name, premiered after months of anticipation. With a reported cost exceeding Rs 50 crores, this is an Indian fiction series of many firsts. It is the first time an A-list Indian film ‘star’ of the stature of Anil Kapoor is playing the lead on television, where generally A-list actors only host or judge shows, or make ‘cameo’ appearances to promote their movies. It is the first time an international TV series has been adapted on such a massive scale in India, and also the first time a majority of the 24 episodes of the series were shot in advance, in an industry where one-line stories are stretched to multiple years!
Moreover, the kind of Bollywood talent involved in the series is mind-boggling. 24 is produced by Anil Kapoor, who starred on the eighth season of the original American version of the show alongside contemporary television icon, Kiefer ‘Jack Bauer’ Sutherland. The series is directed by Delhi Belly director Abhinay Deo, written by Rang De Basanti writer Rensil D’Silva, with dialogues by Kaante writer Milap Milan Zaver. It co-stars, along with Kapoor, an array of film talent like Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi, Rahul Khanna, Tisca Chopra, Mandira Bedi and Neil Bhoopalam.
Indian TV channel Colors has reportedly invested Rs 85 Crore in the show, with the aim of making it one of India’s only TV series with a season-based format (a second season is said to be already in the works). While it is a bit premature to predict the impact of the show on Indian TV, it is suffice to say that if the show gets a high number of eyeballs, there is a good chance that television content in India will start catering to not just the saas, bahu and the beti, but also the sasur, damaad and beta! With Anurag Basu rumoured to be planning an Indian adaptation of the international series Prison Break and an Anurag Kashyap-led Amitabh Bachchan starrer already in the works for the TV channel, Sony, Indian television looks set for a much-needed overhaul in the years to come. Let’s just hope that it arrives before we become as old as the storylines of our current batch of archaic TV shows!
Even as we hope for a fantastic 2014, here are the ups and downs in the land of television in 2013:
INDIAN TV SHOWS:
Through the year, General Entertainment Channel (GEC) Star Plus more or less maintained the least in terms of viewership amongst all channels, with Zee TV and Colors juggling second and third spots between them. Sometimes Sony TV would climb upwards but usually it maintained its fourth position. Life OK and Sahara came in last. A major development of 2013 was that Television Viewership in Thousands (TVTs) replaced Total Rating Points (TRPs) as the measurement for television viewership in India, as digitisation was brought about across the country.
And of course, while GECs led the way for both urban and rural viewers through the year, towards the end of the year, Star World launched a subscription-based channel, Star World Premiere, that aims to air popular international TV shows like How I Met Your Mother, on the same day as their international broadcast, a first for India!
Have a look at this list: Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Madhubala – Ek Ishq Ek Junoon, Pyaar Ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyaara Pyaar, Pavitra Rishta, Is Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon, Kehta Hai Dil Jee Le Zara. These are some of the top performing Indian shows of 2013. Notice anything in common? Maybe the words ‘Rishta’, ‘Ishq’, ‘Pyaar’, ‘Pyaara’ and ‘Dil’ give you a hint? Yes, Indian television suddenly seemed to realise that before a woman becomes a bahu and then a saas, she typically falls in love with a man (either before or after marriage), and that could make for a TV show too! And considering the long legacy of our ‘me too’ television history, once the first such show became a success, every channel had at least three such shows on air at any given point of time. They had different faces and the same storylines that eventually did turn into saas-bahu sagas, because the next step after love is obviously marriage and the dreaded in-laws.
Even as love ruled the airwaves with the above shows and shows like Diya Aur Baati (about arranged marriage) and Qubool Hai (About love in the Muslim community), which were the biggest hits of the year, the hits from the years before continued to fare strongly be it Balika Vadhu, Uttaran, Sasural Simar Ka, Punar Vivah, Veera, Saath Nibhana Saathiya and Sapne Suhane Ladakpan Ke, some of which completed milestones between 200 – 1400 episodes (in the case of Balika Vadhu!). As they say, ‘The more things change, the more they remain the same’, and that holds completely true in the case of Indian television. Here’s hoping 24 India brings about some true change for once.
Mythological and Historical
The interest of Indian television audiences in mythological and historical television shows remained steady in 2013. The greatest Indian epic ever written, the Mahabharata, was recreated on television again by Star Plus in 2013, even though a similar exercise by Ekta Kapoor in 2008, for 9X, was a massive disaster. But this version, named Mahabharat, which was targeted primarily at the youth through its large PR and marketing activations across the country, opened to great TVTs and continued to hold fort through 2013. The show, whose creative team counted amongst its talent legendary Indian writer Salim Khan, author Devdutt Patnaik, Oscar-winning designer Bhanu Athaiya, music composers Ismail Darbar and Ajay-Atul and art director Omung Kumar, was reportedly made on a budget of Rs 150 Crores, a lot of which was spent on special effects, the likes of which were seen less on Indian television.
The historical, Jodha Akbar (Zee TV), produced by Ekta Kapoor, was another huge success, and gathered fantastic TVTs throughout the year. Other shows in this category like Devon Ke Dev Mahadev, Bharat Ka Veer Putra – Maharana Pratap, Buddha and Ganesh Leela were also watched fervently in 2013.
Comedy also continued to rule the roost in the year but one show stood out because of its historic ratings and critical acclaim both: Comedy Nights with Kapil (Colors). The show, hosted by stand-up comedian Kapil Sharma went on air in the month of June and quickly became a must-watch television viewing event for families because of its quirky format, the likeable personality of its host, and the enjoyable interactions between Sharma and the celebrity guests of the episode, which included India’s biggest names in entertainment.
Sony TV’s Comedy Circus continued doing well through the year, Sab TV’s Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah continued to be amongst the top 20 highest rating shows of the year, and many other shows like Nautanki – The Comedy Theater (Colors), Hassvya kavi sammelen Wah! Wah! Kya Baat Hai! (Sab TV) and most SAB TV fiction comedies, led by police comedy FIR, had above average viewership through the year.
Tired of watching regular youngsters on talent shows showing off their youthful energy and skills, the audiences gave a mighty thumbs up to any show that brought them kids, parents and even grandparents on their TV screens and made them feel good about themselves. Hence, it was clearly the year of Spin Offs, as Indian Idol Junior, Dance India Dance Super Moms, Junior Master Chef and Nach Baliye Shriman V/s Shrimati did exceedingly well in the off season of their parent talent shows.
Shows like India’s Best Dramebaaz (featuring kids), India’s Dancing Superstars (featuring all ages), and Connected Hum Tum (featuring married or about-to-be-married women) also did well, while new seasons of Jhhalak Dikhhla Jaa, Kaun Banega Crorepati and Big Boss continued their dominance as India’s premiere reality shows. The Bachelorette, where Mallika Sherawat took home a reported Rs 30 crore just too test contestants and find a suitable boy to date, opened to good numbers too.
The success of Crime Patrol also gave way to many crime-based shows like Shaitan – A Criminal Mind, Savdhaan India – India Fights Back and Police – Dial 100 lured in audiences with thrilling re-enactments of real incidents of crime.
Channel V continued its rise as India’s only youth GEC, leaving far behind its old competitors MTV India and UTV Bindass. With its flagship shows Gumrah – End of Innocence, about crime amongst youngsters, and daily serials Dil Dosti Dance, Humse Hai Life, The Buddy Project, The Serial and Surveen Guggal – Topper of the Year, the channel left its old identity of reality and music programming far, far behind.
MTV India, on the other hand, kept experimenting and mixing it up with veteran successful reality shows like Roadies and Splitsvilla (in their 10th and 6th seasons now, respectively), established music properties Coke Studio @ MTV, Unplugged, Soundtripping and their first attempt at a season-based fiction comedy TV series, Reality Stars, a comedy reality series, TimeOut with Imam, and a show on cybercrime, Webbed. While some experiments paid off and others failed for MTV India, they continued maintaining their identity as a universal youth and music channel.
While MTV remained ahead of UTV Bindass in viewership for the major part of the year, it faced tough competition towards the end of the year as their show Yeh Hai Aashiqui, based on emotional real-life love stories, received major love from the audiences. Bindass’ regular reality shows, Superdude, Big Switch and Emotional Atyachar also fared well, although their experiment in re-launching their identity as ‘Rest Less’ had mixed results.
INTERNATIONAL TV SHOWS:
If there was one show that defined the year 2013 in international television, it was AMC’s multiple award-winning television series Breaking Bad, that reached its epic, violent conclusion after five years and five seasons. The show, created by Vince Gilligan and starring Bryan Cranston as a high school chemistry teacher-turned-drug lord, has been hailed as the greatest television series ever made by critics and fans alike. Its final episode was watched by over 10 million people on its first broadcast across USA, and by millions more through internet streaming and illegal downloads the world over, in what was a shared cultural experience only experienced during sports broadasts. As the curtains fell for the show on September 29, 2013, television fans across the world fell into collective momentary depression, not sure how they are going to live the rest of their lives without the addiction that was the show, Breaking Bad.
On the other hand, another cable television darling, Showtime’s Dexter, starring Michael C Hall, also came to its conclusion after eight seasons, but left most fans and critics unhappy with the way it ended. Apart from the previously mentioned landmark year for original Netflix series, the new shows that were loved by fans and critics alike were Kevin Bacon-starrer The Following, about a serial-killer who starts a cult; Under The Dome, adapted by Stephen King’s book of the same name about a town that’s surrounded by a mysterious dome, Marvel’s first television series, Agents of SHIELD, which takes place in the time after 2012’s smash hit movie, The Avengers, and brings back to life the much loved Agent Coulson (played by Clarg Gregg), James Spader-starrer The Blacklist, about the world’s most-wanted criminal, and Sleepy Hollow, a fantasy drama about the resurrection.
The rest of the year saw new seasons of the same shows in reality television, serialised fiction and sitcoms faring spectacularly. The Voice, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance continued their dominance as America’s most-loved reality shows. In cable television, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Homeland, The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, and Suits, continued causing mass mania and innumerable dinner-table debates amongst television lovers, even as families and kids continued to adorn network television’s top-rated, invincible sitcoms The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Simpsons and How I Met Your Mother, which started its journey towards the end with its final season.
Among network television serialised fiction shows, the second season of Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes’ show, Scandal, which stars Kerry Washington as a crisis fixer in Washington DC, became an all-American phenomenon, as television buffs lapped it up in millions, just like they did Grey’s Anataomy. The Good Wife, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, Elementary, Castle, Glee, Once Upon a Time and Grey’s Anatomy continued their ratings juggernaut while crime procedurals CSI, NCIS, Law and Order and Criminal Minds did as well as they’ve always done.
Finally, among late night shows, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno continued to battle it out for audience attention as the funniest talk shows on TV, while The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Real Time with Bill Maher continued to master political satire.
Note: This article first appeared in the Scholastic Yearbook 2014.
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