Behind the Debora Patta puppet on ZANews

2012-08-21 08:47
When I first heard that Debora Patta's joined ZANews as an anchor my first thought was: Do they need permission from puppet personalities to avoid an exposé on 3rd Degree?

We know that Patta's no puppet so did the show need to ask her if they could turn her into one?

The fifth season of the series premiered on Top One on Sunday 12 August at 21:00 and introduced Patta as Tim Modise's new co-host.

Each episode features an omnibus of episodes from the week - the ZANews website carries a new episode Mondays to Fridays and the TV show wraps them into a blitz.

I caught up with ZANews executive producer and creator Thierry Cassuto to investigate what goes on behind-the-strings when they're casting the series and discovered that Patta has absolutely no say in how they portray her.

Word from Thierry is that the series can recreate any public personality without asking for their permission. Because the puppets are a parody of them there's no way anyone could confuse them with the real person.

Thierry: "If you do something with existing video or photographs of the people then you could I guess, be sued, whether it's for invasion of privacy, defamation or libel or whatever but because we're using the latex puppets - even though they could be mistaken for the originals - it still says: 'This is not reality'."

Thierry went on to tell me that the only limitation is when someone isn't in the public space.

Tashi: "Why isn't it the same with them?"

Thierry: "When people are in the public space you can say anything you want about them because it's your opinion and it would considered as fair comment but if it's a private person and you say: "So-and-so did this," then the person could say it's an invasion of privacy. Anyone who's in the public space cannot claim that their privacy's being infringed upon."

Why Tim? Why Patta? How do they choose who to cast? About three years ago Tim ousted Mahendra Raghunath as the headline anchor after that whole fiasco that resulted in the SABC refusing to air the show.

Afterwards, Thierry and Zapiro (creative director) decided to use a different presenter and chose Tim because they felt that audiences know him as representing a voice of neutrality, integrity and reason.

They chose Debora because she's good TV. They started playing around with a puppet of her last year with voice artist Nikki Jackman and once they saw how well she was coming to life, they decided to cast her in the new season.

From the sounds of it both of them quite like their moonlighting puppet roles. Tim's been on set, appeared with his puppet and only disagreed with one characteristic. He said that he'd never say "Voertsek" which his puppet-ego says a lot. 

As for Deb, she SMSed Thierry after her first episode appeared online to say well done and that she loved it.  From the sounds of it she's taking it well, which strongly suggests that she realises and acknowledges how orange she is.

Tashi Tagg is the editor of TVSA, South Africa’s TV authority.

Do you watch ZANews – online or on TV? What do you think of the show? Send your letters, columns and comments to and you could be published!

Do personalities need to give ZANews permission to turn them into puppets? Executive producer Thierry Cassuto gives us the inside scoop on Debora Patta on the show.
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