Comedy is 'unfunny' business on Indian TV

The genre sees channels struggle with content, talent, timing & diversity of markets to tickle the audience's funny bone

e4m by Collin Furtado
Updated: Nov 13, 2014 8:09 AM
Comedy is 'unfunny' business on Indian TV

In the Hindi GEC space which is dominated by soaps, comedy is one genre that still remains on uncertain grounds. Some of the comedy shows in the fiction space that had worked previously included Zabaan Sambhalke, Hum Paanch, Khichdi and Sarabhai vs. Sarabhai. The genre has seen success with shows such as Comedy Nights with Kapil, the top show on Colors, which has managed to get 6.0 TVTs on an average week after week.. Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma on SAB TV is not only the top running show on the channel but also the top running fiction comedy show in this space and currently has a rating of 6.3 TVTs as per data from TAM subscribers. With shows such as this achieving huge success what is stopping other Hindi GECs from launching shows in this genre?

Challenges of the comedy genre

Top channels in Hindi GEC space such as Star Plus and Zee TV have failed in this genre with shows such as Mad in India and Gangs of Haseepur respectively failing to perform well with the audience. Colors too before the success of Comedy Nights with Kapil had a comedy show that called Nautanki that failed tickle the funny bone of audiences.

Nikhil Madhok, Marketing Head, Star Plus said, “Comedy is difficult because it is all about timing, talent, the writing and to write it consistently is difficult. However, there have been enough cases of successes as well. I think the Great India Laughter Challenge is what Star One had done. It is the one that actually kick started the whole thing. We currently have Comedy Classes on our sister channel Life OK. Star Plus’ own initiatives in either fiction or non-fiction space, especially non-fiction comedy has not been as successful. But Comedy Nights with Kapil does really well. So if you have good writing and good talent it can cut through. If your question is it difficult to do, yes it is more difficult than other genres. Making people laugh is a tough thing.”

Similarly, Pradeep Hejmadi, Business Head, Zee TV is of the opinion that whatever comedy series have worked out till now are by chance and not by design. “Comedies at a very basic level are meant to help a person feel relaxed, laugh, find something new, appreciate somebody’s take on something that is going on. Where it is tricky is as a creator to get the pulse right of how to constitute a show. So getting comedy shows right is not very easy, it is difficult. Because what is funny to me might not be funny to you and what is hilarious to me might be slapstick for you and those are the kinds of differences we have to deal with. So it becomes very difficult therefore in scripting in managing a property like that. Whatever has come out is literally a spark in the forest which nobody had ever thought would fire.”

According to Anooj Kapoor, SVP and Business Head, SAB TV, “Comedy is very difficult to get into especially in the Indian television space with such a restricted talent pool. SAB TV has actually has become the first dedicated comedy channel on the Indian television space and that has only happened in the last five years and therefore we have to make do with whatever restricted but very talented bunch of people that are present in the comedy genre in television. Most filmmakers and television producers across the world agree that it is far more difficult to make comedy than it is to make the other forms of entertainment.” He further added that a lot of other GECs have over the years have tried fiction comedy shows and for some reason have not really worked as well as the shows on SAB TV.

With SAB TV currently climbing up the ladder and now at No.4 spot in the ratings chart above Life OK, the audience appreciation for comedy shows definitely seems to be picking up.

Lavneesh Gupta, COO, Reliance Broadcast Network which runs Big Magic puts it simply as to make anybody cry it is simple, but to make anybody laugh or happy it is the most difficult thing to do. “Not many people want to dare and take that step towards making people laugh. We had done some studies and research which proved that there is a healthy viewership but we have taken steps with utmost planning towards reaching that goal and I think it has paid dividends for us otherwise we would not be surviving. There are initial challenges to build it but as an industry where SAB TV is creating a decent traction across the business. So if we started of 4-5 GRPs today we are close to 30 GRPs in CS4+ (markets). There are challenges but there is a certain set of viewers who are looking forward to such content.” However, Gupta says it is not too difficult to get talent for these shows. “But you need to do a lot of pilot tests and research on what will work and what will not across our HSM markets,” he added. 

Gupta further adds that the fiction can be written well and scripted well. “There is more time for it to be done well so that becomes easier to do on the fiction side because you can plan it better. On the non-fiction side it is more of timing and the concept which you try to bring on the table may or may not work. So between fiction and non-fiction, fiction is better and works much better with a planned approach and non-fiction can go right or go totally wrong.”

So is comedy off the table?

As far as Star Plus and Zee TV is concerned though they may have not gotten the formulae right it doesn’t mean that they the genre is off limits. “For us it is not about whether we should be in a comedy genre or not. We don’t define it as having to be in the thriller space or fiction or non-fiction, etc. Our approach is that we must be doing relevant stories for our consumer and giving them a fair amount of variety,” said Madhok.

Hejmadi on the other hand looks at it as an interesting challenge to look forward to going ahead. “It is a genre which people like but it also comes with its own set of challenges. It will find very difficult to drive loyalty. With all of these challenges and tasks attached to comedy it is not the easiest of genres to deal with,” he added.

Life OK is trying its hand in this genre and has just started with their new show Comedy Classes.

Speaking about this Ajit Thakur, Life OK in an interview taken earlier with exchange4media said, “We are set to reinvent comedy. Comedy as a space we haven’t had since the launch and we’ve been working on it since long. But there are only two kinds of comedy on Indian television today either they are stand-up comedy or they are the dramadies, which is drama-comedies. We wanted to see what type of comedy sits well with Life OK and then we decided to go with sit-coms, as it hasn’t been there on Indian television lately. We decided to bring this format back as it has been a proven format in the west. Along with that we are bringing the best comedy talent on one platform together.”

The show has had a slow start in a month since it started. While in its first week (week 41) it scored 2.0 TVMs, in the consequent week it dropped to 1.8 TVMs (week 42). The next week (week 43) saw it decline further to 1.5 TVMs and in the latest week it managed to pick itself a bit and rise to 1.8 TVMs.

With challenges in the space why did some channels decide to create dedicated content to this genre? According to Gupta they did not want to be a channel that follows the pack. “We did research and what we realised that if we had to be in this space (Hindi GEC) we cannot be another ‘me too’ channel. Sony (TV) is just struggling today because it is just trying to be a ‘me too’ (channel) in terms of creating new fiction shows every now and then. It is creating new shows which are not working. We wanted to break out of the clutter and to take what is the viewership requirement in today’s time, which is to look in snack-in, snack-out and look at what the current trend of viewership in terms of content.”

Kapoor says, “SAB TV has taken upon itself the challenge of doing the daily comedies which has never happened anywhere in the world therefore the task becomes doubly difficult. The first channel to actually dedicate itself to attract the entire family to watch comedy is SAB TV. I strongly feel that people who have a positive outlook towards life and like to enjoy themselves with the family and take life only as seriously as it should be taken are the people who like to watch comedy.”

The comedy genre does have its fair sets of challenges in producing shows that crack viewers, but it is not something that is impossible. With the right combination of research and talent combined together can produce shows that will definitely tickle the audience funny bone.

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