Monday, September 22, 2014

Generations head writer and co-producer Bongi Ndaba out as dramatic changes continue behind the scenes at embattled Mfundi Vundla soap.

Bongi Ndaba who was the head writer and co-producer at the embattled Generations on SABC1 is out and gone as the dramatic and controversial changes continue behind the scenes of the biggest TV show on South African television faced with an uncertain future.

The SABC on late Friday announced that Generations will abruptly cease broadcasting further episodes for months from October since there aren't any episodes left after September.

It will be the first time since 1994 when the highly popular soap started that the most lucrative and most watched TV show on South African television will be off the air due to major production disruption.

With the Generations episode cupboard bare, the unexpected disappearance of the soap from the SABC airwaves, the firing of the entire principal cast and now the loss of the head scriptwriter represent the biggest TV programming upset to ever hit the beleaguered South African public broadcaster, impacting millions of viewers.

The fired Generations cast is now taking the SABC and MMSV Productions to the CCMA, while producer Mfundi Vundla said he would never take any of the 16 principal cast members back.

The Generations cast which formed the Generations Actors Guild (GAG) went on strike and was promptly fired after demanding the three year contracts the SABC's famously matricless chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng personally promised them in June 2013 and which never materialised.

They also wanted better pay rates and residual payment for rebroadcasts of the show promised in their existing contracts which they've never received.

The SABC on Friday called the disappearance of Generations - which lures an average of 8 million viewers and commands the highest advertising spot price for a 30 second commercial of R220 000 - part of a "minor schedule change".

Now Generations also lost the soap's head scriptwriter and viewers will be left with multiple unresolved cliffhangers on 30 September while with producer Mfundi Vundla and MMSV Productions planning a "Generations - The Next Generation" type soap to "resume" from December on SABC1.

Bongi Ndaba who became head writer in mid 2012 and had been with the show for 8 years, suddenly resigned last week from Generations. She gave no reasons as to why she jettisoned the soap.

Thato Molamu who played Nicholas in the soap is the father of Bongi Ndaba's 4 year old son and is co-incidentally also one of the 16 actors who got fired from Generations. He is now the presenter of the SABC2 game show What's Behind the Wall?

In an interview in 2012 with Sunday World Bongi Ndaba said "I love Generations. I'd hate to work on a series where black people are shown kicking and stabbing each other. This shows blacks in a positive light. It's inspirational."

In the meantime TV industry experts expect SABC1 viewership to plunge from October when the perennial number one most watched TV show and soap on South African television disappears from the schedule.

The loss of Generations for months from SABC1 - and which was unplanned - will negatively impact the SABC's television audience share during primetime, advertising income, as well as the quota of original local content produced and being broadcast on the SABC.

The shocking backstage drama which the SABC's top management, TV executives and MMSV Productions have been unable to properly and speedily manage and resolve, already inflicted massive brand damage on the SABC, SABC1 and the production company since Generations is the public broadcaster's flagship show.

In July, 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 general manager for TV channels at the SABC told the press in July that "nothing touches Generations. We dare not move it".

Now the soap will not move but completely disappear for months from SABC1 - forcing viewers to sample alternative programmes on competitor TV channels ranging from the growing number of community TV stations like SowetoTV to popular pay-TV channels from M-Net like Mzansi Magic on MultiChoice's DStv.

As some of these viewers form new TV loyalties and solidify new viewing habits as they migrate elsewhere during primetime, the SABC stand a very real change of losing a large portions of viewers it will never get back.