Thursday, October 17, 2019

SABC cans Top Billing after 23 years as broke public broadcaster can no longer afford to keep one of its last top legacy brands on the air.

Saturday will see the abrupt end of another of the SABC's last remaining top legacy brands with Top Billing on SABC3 that has been cancelled after 23 years with the South African public broadcaster that can no longer afford to pay for it.

As yet there's been no official statement from the SABC or its SABC3 channel, or Tswelopele Productions who saw its longrunning contract for the aspirational show with the SABC axed because of the broadcaster's ongoing financial problems.

It's not clear why the SABC didn't make an announcement sooner about Top Billing's demise but its axing will come as a shock to generations of South African viewers who grew up with it and emulated the styles it lifestyle trends it showed.

The SABC was asked for comment about why the SABC cancelled Top Billing and whether it is because the broadcaster can’t afford it anymore, as well as why the SABC didn’t announce the show’s ending sooner to viewers when the contract wasn’t renewed. 

Vuyo Mthembu, SABC spokesperson, said “we will be releasing a statement”.

Saturday's final Top Billing episode at 18:00 will include no nostalgic lookback, although the show's one former host and co-executive producer Basetsana Kumalo, will appear in an insert reflecting on her "25 year journey".

The iconic show that has adapted over the years since it was started by Patience Stevens, always showing "the best of the good life", has made name stars of multiple walk-and-talk presenters who found fame after being hand-picked to front the glamorous lifestyle magazine show that has been a weekly staple on the SABC schedule for decades.

The show became such a permeating force in South African popular culture that people started referring to mega-mansions as "A Top Billing house" or lavish weddings as a "Top Billing wedding" - referencing the weekly mansion and over-the-top wedding day profile inserts.

Meanwhile its walk-and-talk signature presenting style became often-imitated, widely seen as the pinnacle of what would-be presenting on local television should be.

The iconic show that moved between SABC2 and SABC3 and that weathered multiple day and timeslot changes over decades managed to keep its audience as it kept up with the times, constantly evolving and adapting to changing styles.

With high production values, including overseas travel inserts and Hollywood interviews, Top Billing kept courting a high LSM viewership as one of the last remaining legacy shows on public television that managed to bring affluent viewers, highly coveted by advertisers, to the SABC.

ALSO READ: This is why the SABC decided to cancel Top Billing on SABC3 after 27 years - and why it decided to keep the axing secret.