The SABC has been put on full blast by South African artists working in the TV biz, slamming the public broadcaster for wanting to cancel the SABC3 prime time drama High Rollers after boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng constantly said the SABC is supporting local productions and artists.
The South African TV industry is reeling with shock after SABC3 told Rous Hous Productions it wants the casino-set, local prime time soap currently in its 3rd season, off the air within 30 days – even though the production has a much longer contract for more episodes.
A longtime and respected veteran TV producer not working on High Rollers and speaking on condition of anonymity so as to not damage existing and future business relations with the SABC, called the SABC's shock decision "unprecedented" and "unheard of".
The producer told TVwithThinus that "cancelling a contract for a long format production without valid reason and without due notice and the chance to correct what is wrong is unheard of in the industry, and reeks of a purge of local English programming by Hlaudi".
"A sudden cancellation with 30 days' notice is also unheard of, especially as long format series usually script and shoot 2 to 3 months ahead of broadcast."
"I would advise all agents, writers, actors and crew along with the producers to do a class action suit or individually sue SABC for breach of contract, as the creatives and crew have been contracted by the production house for a full term of work, which the production house is now forced to break because SABC has breached the terms of its contract with the production house," said the producer.
"An unexpected cancellation like this is absolutely devastating for writers, actors, crew and their agents," said the producer.
"Once a contract is signed, that money becomes absolute and is used to keep a roof over the head, food on the table and children in school. Take it away two thirds of the way through the contract, and you leave some 150 workers and their families destitute. And there is a real chance that it could ruin the production house and force it to close its doors."
The SABC's shocking move to abruptly dump High Rollers comes after it actually increased the number of High Rollers episodes screened per week and moved the show's timeslot from 20:30 to 19:30.
In May High Rollers was renewed for a full third season of 156 episodes on SABC3 and extended from three to five episodes per week.
Hundreds of South African viewers have since signed an online petition signed an online petition that was started here to try and save High Rollers from cancellation – already setting a South African TV record for the most people signing to keep a canned local programme on the air in the SABC’s 40-year TV history.
While the ratings for High Rollers has fallen since May when Hlaudi Motsoeneng abruptly ordered a quota of 80% local content for the channel – a plan that flopped – the viewership decrease for the show is in line with the entire SABC3 viewership that keeps spiraling down month after month since the introduction of the new crop of local shows that all failed to attract viewers.
Ironically it’s highly unlikely that replacement new programming stripped in the 19:30 timeslot will yield SABC3 higher ratings than High Rollers that has an ongoing daily narrative it's replacing; and new shows – often having to build from scratch instead of having a dedicated audience – also often cost broadcasters more than existing shows.
The SABC was asked why it wants High Rollers cancelled before the end of its contract that will leave hundreds of cast and crew out of jobs just before Christmas, why the SABC wants out of a show only two thirds through its latest contract, and if the SABC is concerned about the message it's sending when it cancels a local show while saying it wants more local content for SABC3.
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told TVwithThinus in response "the SABC is not in a position to discuss its contractual obligations with production houses and content providers with third parties including the media. If there is anything to be communicated to the production house or the public, the SABC shall do so accordingly".
'SABC has no regard for our industry'
Industry representative bodies like the South African Screen Federation (Sasfed), the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA) and The Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) are aware of the SABC's intent to yank High Rollers before it’s existing contract has expired but have not yet commented publicly.
Meanwhile South African artists – actors, crew and people working on, and who have worked on the show – are slamming the SABC and publicly voicing their support for the show.
"The SABC needs all the quality stuff it can get," said actor Craig Urbani while Des Lindberg said "the public broadcaster should serve the South African public. It is not doing this".
Actress Mbali Hlatshwayo said the "SABC is taking people for granted, it can't cancel High Rollers".
Cast members Justin Strydom said the SABC has acted in bad faith and Vilje Maritz said "it's wrong an unethical".
Former crew member Mandisa Moffat says "the very abrupt cancellation of this show will leave many good people suddenly jobless, and so many fans hanging mid-story".
Former cast member Motlatji Ditodi said "the cancellation is very confusing and criminal in nature, as people's livelihoods will be stolen from them".
Nico Panagio said "the cast, crew and producers of High Rollers are brilliant pioneers" and that "their work should be celebrated, revered and visciously protected".
"The SABC has no regard for our industry,” said Ilse Klink. "Contracts were signed, this is an illegal move by the SABC. Stop taking the arts for granted. People’s livelihoods are at stake".
"I'm an actor myself and justice needs to be done," said Hykie Berg, while artist Sive Matiwane said "it is high time this country respect our profession".
Actress Anel Alexander said "the actions of the SABC is hindering any possible growth. This is one of the very few local, high quality programmes on their channel. We should be fighting to keep this home-grown content on the air".
"I got my big directing break on High Rollers," said Tebogo Mkhabela. "It's a great show".
"My fellow filmmakers don't deserve to lose their jobs like this," said Toby Harris.