Cape Town – With the SABC's most watched show, Generations, abruptly off the air and out of episodes following a firing of the principal cast, producer Mfundi Vundla warns that the SABC "will take a knock in regard to audiences" but that the production plans to fight back to regain viewer's loyalty and trust.
Generations has been the SABC and South African television's biggest TV show in viewership numbers and the South African Broadcasting Corporation's biggest revenue generator on television.
Now it's gone, and with it the high price tag for ads the SABC could command. Viewers are likely to abandon the SABC1 timeslot of 20:00 now padded in an emergency measure with youth drama Skeem Saam.
"We will take a knock in regard to audiences. Let's be realistic. That's to be expected. But we believe we will claw our way back to our original position," Vundla told SABC3's morning show Expresso in a sit-down interview.
The final episode of Generations was broadcast on Tuesday night on SABC1 at 20:00 with the broadcaster and MMSV Productions episode cupboard bare for the first time in 20 years since it started in 1994.
Over the past two decades Generations perennially became the most watched TV show and primetime soap on South African television commanding a hefty R220 000 from advertisers for a 30 second ad spot, luring millions of viewers more than the rest of the popular programmes on the country's top 10 most watched list.
It leaves the show and the SABC's massive average of 8 million viewers free to explore other TV channels and shows after MMSV Production with the consent of the SABC fired Generations' entire principal cast. They also refused to give them their promised three year contracts, better pay rates and residual back payments for rebroadcasts stretching back years.
The principal cast, collectively known as the Generations Actors Guild (GAG) went on strike in August, demanding the long overdue three year contracts personally promised to them by the SABC's chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng more than a year ago in June 2013. They also demanded higher pay rates that compare better to other local TV soaps, as well as residuals for rebroadcasts and resales of the show which they are entitled to in their existing contracts but which never happened.
The Generations Actors Guild is now taking the SABC and MMSV Productions to the CCMA.
Meanwhile South Africa's TV industry has been left aghast at the public broadcaster's loss of its biggest on-air property and money maker and the untold damage inflicted on the image of the SABC, SABC1 and Generations.
Experts have been wondering why the SABC's top management spectacularly failed to properly and quickly solve the impasse in the month and a half before the available Generations episodes ran out, and what it means for the rest of the SABC's shows if the public broadcaster's biggest local TV production and flagship programme can suddenly stops showing due to a production implosion.
In July, before the strike, when the SABC announced new schedules for SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 the broadcaster boldly stated that Generations will remain in the primetime spot of 20:00.
Leo Manne, the suspended general manager for TV channels at the SABC told the press in July that "nothing touches Generations. We dare not move it". Two months later the SABC's biggest show is not even on the schedule.
The TV show that Nelson Mandela once praised for nation building has behind-the-scenes been a far cry from reconciliation, unity and peace and also lost head writer and co-producer Bongi Ndaba who abruptly quit last month after 8 years with the show.
‘Viewers have been put under a lot of stress’MMSV Productions and Mfundi Vundla who said he will never take the actors back, is now working behind-the-scenes to try and come up with a "new" Generations.
In the Expresso interview Vundla admitted that viewers can flee from the 20:00 timeslot on SABC1 they've tuned to for decades.
"Viewers can tune out and go somewhere else. Which is what pains me about what's going on right now. Our viewers have been put under a lot of stress," said Vundla.
"I wish to apologise to the South African people and apologise to the Generations audience."
Vundla told Expresso that "we are reconstructing Generations. They will recognise elements of the present Generations but we are taking a new creative direction".
He said that "our relation with the 16 actors who terminated their services, that relationship is irrevocably damaged and toxic."
Second Generations ‘going younger’"We are going back to our original roots of the series. Viewers will recognise individuals who were there at the beginning of the series, which anchors the new narrative, so people will recognise elements from the past in the new direction we are taking."
Generations is also going much younger in the way that e.tv's Rhythm City and the soaps and telenovellas on M-Net's Mzansi Magic channel on DStv have been incorporating younger characters to lure a younger audience.
"We are going younger. There's a predominance of 20 to 24 year olds, early 30's actors who will be in the show. Our stories will be entertaining. There's light entertainment elements and there's also dark elements in the new show," Vundla told Expresso.
The disappearance of the soap for months from SABC1 cuts viewers loose from their longtime primetime habitual viewing to sample alternative programmes on competitor TV channels ranging from the growing number of community TV stations like SowetoTV to Mzansi Magic on MultiChoice's DStv and Platco Digital's OpenView HD which has channels like eKasi+.
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