Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Open Letter to Carte Blanche on M-Net: Adding Claire Mawisa as a presenter is a really big mistake - because I know you're better than this.

Dear Carte Blanche on M-Net

I love you; always have.

I have always watched you. As much and as often as I could.

That book that came out for your 25th anniversary in 2013? Believe me: I could have written it, and even better (and I'm not boasting).

I have VHS cassettes with recorded inserts, promos and theme songs stretching back decades which I will never throw away, so I'm writing to you out of a place of nothing but honest caring, caution and concern when I say:

Adding Claire Mawisa as a new presenter to your storied programme is a big mistake.

Yes. I've said it. A bigger mistake even than the planned spin-off Carte Blanche Pets M-Net wanted you to do, but thankfully never inflicted, on M-Net subscribers.

There really is no nice way to say this, so I will just say it.

Claire Mawisa is not Carte Blanche material. In fact, I think if she stays that she will damage you in ways neither you, nor us viewers, can even imagine.

And I love television, and I love you, and I don't want to see that - or have to write about it.

Claire Mawisa comes across as being one of those worst type of limelight seekers - the Kim Kardashian type who will lunge at, and do anything to be famous or to be on television, even if the type of TV is not appropriate.

Why else on earth would she want to be on Carte Blanche if its completely out of her depth and field of reference?

To them it doesn't matter. They just want to be on it, irrespective of the name and brand damage they cause to themselves, a show, and to others. These people will do anything, anything, for the oxygen of TV.

Who thought Claire Mawisa on Carte Blanche would be a good idea?

Are investigative TV magazine presenters really so interchangeable and replaceable that anyone will do? I refuse to believe that because I watch America's 60 Minutes, BBC's Panorama and Australia's Sunday Night often and they don't do foolish things like that.

ANN7 (DStv 405) is doing "an anchor search" competition to just make someone a TV anchor in prime time. As if you don't have to earn that seat behind the desk. (It's also the reason for that news channel's ongoing problem with credibility.)

A presenter and anchor on an investigative TV magazine show needs to earn their place, and then also viewers' respect - and the same should hold true for something like Carte Blanche.

I was willing to give this woman who doesn't have any formal journalistic education (and who shamelessly admitted it) the benefit of the doubt, until Claire Mawisa appeared on VUZU AMP's (DStv 114) V Entertainment on Tuesday evening just two days after her Sunday Carte Blanche debut. (See what I mean with wanting to be on TV whether its relevant or not?)

Why did you Carte Blanche and M-Net even allow Claire Mawisa to go on V Entertainment in the first place?

I cringed - cringed - when she posed like the model and cover girl she clearly really wants to be, where she talks about her love life, where she says men should say money doesn't matter if they want to try and impress her; where she says she wants to do "people stories".

This is how Paris Hilton acts. Not a presenter on a premium investigative magazine show with cache.

Two days after Claire Mawisa appeared on Carte Blanche - which is a blue chip, flagship M-Net brand - she is riding rough shot over your name and inflicting brand damage not just on your name, credibility and the perception of Carte Blanche, but on every single hardworking person there who is a part of the team working on bringing the programme with such a strong journalism pedigree to viewers.

If Claire Mawisa was really serious about Carte Blanche and really serious about being a serious journalist and TV reporter, she would not spend her time doing frivolous tabloid rooftop interviews in the autumn sun.

In years I have never seen Derek Watts or Ruda Landman or Bongani Bingwa or Devi Sankaree Govender do that.

Did you see the part where she just joined Carte Blanche and is already saying she can see herself returning to radio?

Even if it's true, why is she even saying this or allowed to say this? Is their no minder, no PR person, no briefed talking points? No media savvy or planning? Is Carte Blanche just a stepping stone to something bigger and better?

Help this woman, help you, and help us - the Carte Blanche viewers, the paying M-Net and DStv subscribers - and let Claire Mawisa quietly exit Carte Blanche. For the sake of your name and to protect your excellence.

Someone who says she wanted to tell people "not to watch" doesn't deserve to be on Carte Blanche and is going to damage it. Cut your losses before the embarrassment grows and cut Claire Mawisa loose - or let her stay but first learn basic journalism working behind the scenes.

Claire Mawisa had the gall to tell us that she "has been working with newsrooms" and is "comfortable with certain content". I take it she loves animals and is going to do cute animal stories.

Or am I really to believe that Claire Mawisa is going to do real, hard investigative stories and dare (or even offer) to do the visually confrontational pieces Carte Blanche has built its name on? I think not.

She said she wants to tell people stories and "that for me is the most important thing". Please take note: She didn't say journalism, the pursuit of truth, exposing issues, corruption, mistakes and society's faults. But "telling people's stories". Bless.

In the decades I've watched Carte Blanche as a loyal, loyal viewer and later TV critic, I've honestly never seen or experieced such a tacky, trashy, loud and brashy "introduction" of a new presenter to the Carte Blanche team. It's so ... just really beneath what Carte Blanche is.

Is this what Carte Blanche is going to become now? A KTV-ised, YOTV version for the young crowd with presenters doing selfies as they do stories? I fear for you Carte Blanche.

The time chatting on V Entertainment Claire Mawisa could have used to call Ruda Landman and offered to take her to coffee to ask for advice, to call Les Aupiais for story ideas, to take Devi Sankaree Govender's brilliant work out of the video library and to study her techniques.

My fear is, and I'm scared, that Claire Mawisa is trampling on the legacy built up through hard work and dedication by Michele Alexander, Martine Dennis, Annika Larsen and Chantal Rutter Dros - women who joined Carte Blanche with real journalism credentials and who stayed the course.

What Carte Blanche is actually saying and communicating to us as viewers and to the South African TV industry and media and journalism fraternity, is that there's not enough really great qualified broadcast journalists in South Africa who can be TV presenters as well.

What Carte Blanche says through this daft hire without saying it, is that there's not really great young graduates available in media and journalism from schools across South Africa.

Or that Carte Blanche is really that desperate to go young and trying to get a young(er) audience.

And that it doesn't matter that you actually go and study TV, media and journalism - your hard work and effort is actually in vain since we will take anybody if you can walk and talk. But I digress.

The truth is that Carte Blanche (and this is not dissing those shows, at all) is not Top Billing, or Expresso or 50/50 or The Real Goboza. Carte Blanche has credibility. Credibility it has built up the hard way over a long time.

Its style of TV journalism has become an institution just like its timeslot on Sundays at 19:00 on M-Net has become a tradition.

Adding Claire Mawisa isn't building but chipping away at that institutionality, that tradition and that overall credibility. Believe me.

I'm not tuning in to Carte Blanche to see "people's stories". I don't read newspapers and magazines and consume news media and insightful perspective pieces because I don't have anything better to do.

I do it because I turn to credible, proven media and publications who excel at what they do, who are experts, because I learn from them, and because they expand my view and understanding of the world I live in.

If Carte Blanche starts wasting viewers' time or no longer matters, viewers are going to start to tune out.

Don't look for relevance in cosmetic changes Carte Blanche - you haven't lost any of your relevance. Just keep doing real good work and your viewers who matter (and who matter to advertisers) will always be there.

All though my university studies I didn't have M-Net. On Sunday evenings I would walk kilometres to other other homes and hostels over years where I had friends, just to watch Carte Blanche. What was said and showed mattered that much.

I knew I would get something. Something of value. I knew I would be exposed to a bigger world from people who knew more than me and would transport me to places and people I never could on my own.

Even now with DStv Catch-Up supposedly automatically recording your show, I still watch and still set my own recording for Carte Blanche - too scared to miss it, and just wanting to make sure. It still matters that much.

Through the years there's been mistakes (Carte Blanche Extra which lasted all of 10 episodes, and that guy in the end-funny bon mot pieces who tried to be our Andy Rooney) but I've always stuck with you.

My fear is that as Carte Blanche experiments and dilutes its brand with irrational additions for the sake of whatever, like bringing in the Claire Mawisas of the world, that I might care just that little bit less.

And I don't want to go there.

Guard your integrity, your brand, your credibility, your legacy, dear dear Carte Blanche, just as much as I revel and enjoy (and have enjoyed over many years) the stellar work you've put on television for me to watch.

Continue to hold Carte Blanche to the TV compass that I, when I was almost two decades younger, aspired to and led me to journalism; something that's still a beacon which makes today's new generation of young people who want to be TV and news and current affairs producers and TV presenters want to be a part of your show.

Last month when I attended the official media launch of M-Net's Magic in Motion Film and TV Academy and that one young man was introduced and said from the stage "My dream is to work for Carte Blanche" I was so moved. It was a magical moment.

I knew that George Mazarakis from Combined Artistic Productions, Carte Blanche's executive producer was in that very room.

As a TV critic I felt so privileged to see a young media student in South Africa feel so much reverence, awe and respect for a South African brand of television that he wanted to tell a whole room that that is where he wanted to work - and that he is going to work as hard as he can to try and be good enough to maybe get a job there.

Don't sell yourself short Carte Blanche for the sake of ratings, youth appeal, demos and other superficial, transient fluff.

A really great TV executive once told me TV talent is mercurial; that the very best of television only invests is getting, keeping and showcasing the very best.

Doing your very best will always be enough Carte Blanche. This latest hire isn't.

Show South Africa and M-Net viewers that you continue to be as serious about them - us - as you are about doing serious, dedicated, and respected journalism with credible journalists, dedicated producers and presenters who we trust and believe.

That's the real reason why we keep watching Carte Blanche.