Tuesday, August 19, 2014

GENEDRAMA: What the shocking firing of the Generations cast reveals about the SABC and signals to the TV biz and viewers.

There were, ironically, real tears dripping from an actress' face on-screen on Monday night on SABC1's Generations on the day the entire principal cast got fired - dismissed and tossed away like old rubbish.

Suddenly yesterday's generation.

The Generations cast got fired on Monday for daring to strike - their second in less than 10 months - battling for what they say are three year contracts the SABC promised, as well as wanting better pay rates, and promised back pay for multiple rebroadcasts of Generations episodes as well as international sales of the highly popular, highly lucrative SABC soap.

Ironically the SABC's famously matricless chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng is still there, untouched, unsanctioned, and not suspended by the recalcitrant SABC board - despite the Public Protector's report from February which implicated Hlaudi Motsoeneng in irregular salary increases of R1.5 million to R2.4 million in just one year.

Ironically the SABC lavished a "bonus" pay-out last month totalling more than R42 million to SABC staff - a "thank you" to staff for hard work.

One wonders where the Generations cast perhaps got the idea that there's more money to be shared when you're a face on the SABC's most watched TV show?

Yet the SABC and MMSV Productions balked at the Generations actors' demands and jettisoned the principal cast of 16 actors - the stars of its number one show - for daring to say like Oliver Twist: "Please sir, may I have more?"

The SABC and MMSV Productions seemingly chose to rather damage the SABC's most important TV property and create and sit with a television trainwreck on a scale never seen before on South African television in its 38 years of existence, rather than continue to try and keep negotiating or trying to find some type of a compromise or middle ground.

That is what happens with a lack of leadership in broadcasting like the the last few years at the SABC: More and more things get broken.

On a socio- pop culture level, much can be said about how the firing of a generation from Generations might symbolically be another indication of how the once shiny dream of a New South Africa and the aspirations of its people are getting crushed.

Don't forget that Generations started in 1994 with the advent of democracy in South Africa. That year, just like the debut of Generations, signaled new possibilities - not just for South African television and those who can work and aspire to greatness and fame within and on it - but for the enthralled millions watching.

On Monday however the SABC in conjunction with Generations executive producer Mfundi Vundla and MMSV Productions sent a very strong signal to South Africa's TV industry, as well as to South African viewers and production companies working with or for the public broadcaster - as well as South African actors and presenters: Everyone's expendable.

Think of what the message the SABC is sending when the local South African actors and on-screen talent working for the biggest TV show - the most watched programme and most popular TV soap in South Africa - are all suddenly fired. What does it say when the marching orders are given to the most well-known faces tied to the SABC as a brand, and one of its most iconic TV brands?

Even Queen Moroka - the iconic and beloved character played by Sophie Ndana who is now fired and who grew from humble nothing to ad and marketing business woman - will tell you that the optics of this latest SABC scandal is yet another disastrous dent in the image of the public broadcaster and its television programming.

There's is no spin that the SABC or anybody else can put on this new on-set implosion of the SABC's most popular show. It's bad, and one has to wonder if more couldn't have been done and if more people couldn't have worked harder to find a win-win resolution.

Henceforth every single actor, presenter or person working on an SABC TV property will know that even if you help to bring in, like the Generations cast, hundreds of millions of rand per year on the biggest television draw card, that you're expendable.

As Mfundi Vundla, Generations executive producer, said to Radio 702 on Monday so eloquently: "Generations will go on, with or without these people. The fact that we've gotten rid of these people doesn't mean it's the demise of the series".

You don't need to be on the actor's side or on the production company's side or on the SABC's side to know that this is bad for whoever, of whatever, group or side or faction you feel you support.  It's lose-lose-lose for all.

What the dramatic Generations firing tells viewers is that they don't matter (enough).

The SABC will disrupt your programme even if its the most watched show on its TV channels. The people you tune in for and who feels like family (and which the SABC wants to feel like family) can and will suddenly be ripped from your screen and disappear.

Why do South African television executives and executives within the upper ranks at the SABC seemingly lack the ability to make it work and to craft new deals and to talk things out until you've reached a deal like what American television did in 1995 with the cast of Friends and last month with the cast of The Big Bang Theory?

It's shocking and sad and demoralising that South African television keeps struggling so hard to move away from looking so shambolic and always so amateur. As in life, the TV biz gets to tells its most important message and to show its true nature and reveal what lies under the veneer, in the most difficult moments.

The firing of the Generations cast and the inability to solve this issue, shows that the SABC and the South African television business remains immature, hot-headed, foolhardy, stubborn and close-minded.

Perhaps the next Generation will be better.