by Thinus Ferreira
Just before the axe came down on e.tv's canned Rhythm City soap, the cast and crew thought that they were being called together to be congratulated for their hard work and ratings during the Covid-19 pandemic - but then they got fired during a "cold and clinical" speech.
On Friday e.tv shocked South Africa's TV industry when it suddenly announced that after 13 years it's over for its Rhythm City weekday prime time soap produced by Quizzical Pictures.
On Sunday the City Press newspaper reported that the Rhythm City cast and crew were called together for an e.tv meeting, allegedly under the guise of it being a "meet-and-greet" session, only to be "let down" by the terrible cancellation news.
"The speech was cold and clinical. Everyone just had a look on their faces like: What am I going to do?" Rhythm City insiders at Sasani Studios said.
They thought that the e.tv team was coming to congratulate and to praise them for their perseverance and hard work through the Covid-19 pandemic crisis that even saw the production shut down more than once this year.
"It was a surprise as the show has been doing well. You don't can a successful show," a source said.
e.tv declined to say why it decided to cancel Rhythm City other than to say that it's been axed as "part of a business strategy". Marlon Davids, e.tv managing director, in a statement said that "e.tv continues to look forward to fulfilling its mandate of producing exceptional and relevant local content".
After 13 years Rhythm City, executive produced by Harriet Gavshon, will end with its final episode on 16 July 2021 with e.tv that plans to replace it with another daily drama series.
According to e.tv, Rhythm City's "on-air life cycle" is apparently not good enough for the channel anymore, with e.tv that took the decision to can Rhythm City after having reviewed the show's "on-air life cycle".
e.tv doesn't specifically mention any financial reasons for Rhythm City's cancellation in its surprising press statement, yet it stands to reason that Rhythm City's axing is because the soap is likely no longer profitable for e.tv, or is loss-making, or is no longer making enough money for the commercial free-to-air broadcaster.
A combination of ratings and profitability are the main drivers behind the fate of series and programming on commercial TV channels and Rhythm City is clearly no longer making sense as a "keeper" for e.tv within this matrix.
e.tv that doesn't want to give any specific reasons for Rhythm City's cancellation in its press release for something that is a long-running show, will fuel speculation within South Africa's TV industry and under viewers and fans as to what exactly led to its demise.
Rhythm City, created by Rolie Nikiwe and Neil McCarthy, made its broadcast debut on e.tv on 9 July 2007 and was the replacement for the struggling youth-focused Backstage - it was instantly much more popular and gave e.tv a foot in the door in the production of scripted, local South African prime time content that could pull significant ratings.
Rhythm City peaked at almost 5.2 million viewers in 2020 and has consistently ranked amongst the Top 10 most-watched prime time soap operas in South Africa, with its cancellation catching South Africa's TV industry by surprise.
In October Rhythm City pulled 4.04 million viewers at its monthly highwater mark in its 19:00 timeslot, making it the second most-watched show on the e.tv schedule behind Scandal! with 5.1 million viewers.
In May this year, Rhythm City won the Best TV Soap award at 2020's 14th South African Film and Television Awards (Saftas).