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Top Billing celebrates 25th silver anniversary

2017-12-07 15:00

Cape Town – Tonight Top Billing will celebrate its 25th anniversary on South African television with a special, nostalgia-laden look-back episode as current and former presenters, and the show’s executive producers, do revealing and personal oral histories of their time working on the show.

Former presenters Michael Mol and Basetsana Kumalo are back as tonight’s special presenting duo.

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The magazine show's silver anniversary is a phenomenal feat for not just the show but also for the South African public broadcaster where the now iconic programme, as TV arbiter of the “good life” on SABC3 has managed to captivate audiences for two and a half decades of weekly episodes telling and showing inspiring South African success stories. 

Keeping up appearances for 25 years in South Africa’s TV industry, Top Billing, has managed to pull off an incredible production record, only equalled by M-Net’s long-running investigative magazine show, Carte Blanche that will turn 30 in 2018 – both shows bravely travelling internationally, working unrelentingly at getting exclusive interviews and access to eye-popping visual stories.

Now iconic for its hobnobbing with the rich and famous locally and abroad, exotic travelogues, fashion and movie junket inserts, jaw-dropping mansion features and presenters walking (and talking!) in designer evening wear, the Tswelopele Productions show has spawned colloquial phrases like “that’s definitely a Top Billing house”, with its sign-off “goodnight and God bless!” that’s become synonymous with this South Africa TV royalty institution.

More than any other local South African TV show, Top Billing has successfully spawned a bevy of presenter beauties – people South African viewers don’t just love to see, but want to be.

From Neil McCarthy, Ursula Chikane, Janez Vermeiren, Jeannie D, Simba Mhere and Jo-Ann Strauss to Bonang Matheba, Nico Panagio and lately names like Jade Hubner and Chris Jaftha. 

Still aspirational

As fleeting styles, fashions and viewer interest all blossom and fade, Top Billing has smartly managed to adapt, change and constantly evolve over the more than two decades not just with its audience but staying carefully always just slightly ahead of them. Nothing is more tragic than anything old in pop culture that’s lost its relevance, attraction and reason for being – yet Top Billing with agile pop culture agility, remains ahead of the pack.

Viewers keep tuning in because Top Billing, even after 25 years, remains inspiring. Viewers don’t just want to see the spectacular house – the show makes them dream that they can maybe one day have it too. Viewers don’t just tune in for the celebrities – they watch the interviews, although sometimes too sweet, that are carefully orchestrated to make famous folk come across as accessible, ordinary and relatable. 

The glitz, glamour, décor, design, exotic cuisine and luxury travel appearing on Top Billing are at heart not show-off pieces; viewers keep watching because they see things and people they want to emulate.

For 25 years, Top Billing has continued to give South Africans on public television – in a country pummelled by a barrage of negative and disturbing news headlines – an escapist out: a passport saying that it is okay, even if just for an hour a week, to have a dream.     

Thursday night’s must-watch episode at 20:30 on SABC3 will look back with Michelle Garforth-Venter, one of the original presenters, now living in Atlanta in America, reminiscing with her family about her Top Billing years. Current presenter Jonathan Boynton-Lee will relive the Top Billing Presenter Search reality show that he won, while Michael Mol’s family will look back on their life over the years with Top Billing.

The one wearing the Top Billing tiara in real life is Patience Stevens who started Top Billing for the SABC 25 years ago with a dream and a lot of guts in one small editing suite, and who is still the executive producer of this glamarama TV train steaming ahead a quarter of a century later. 

In another insert on Thursday the show charts the friendship between this indefatigable uber-producer who noticed and roped in Basetsana Kumalo years ago – first as a presenter and then as a production partner – and their incredible producing partnership and friendship working on Top Billing all these years.

Watch the promo here:

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