Weepy soaps, it seems, have overstayed their welcome, and a serial overhaul on Indian television is long overdue. Or at least that’s what findings of a study conducted by Starcomm and Hansa Research reveal. The survey — across 1,500 respondents and six cities (including non-metros like Bhopal and Moradabad, and Kolhapur) — says that two out of three TV viewers (66 per cent) are bored, and think the serials are never-ending. Nine out of 10 viewers want a change from the saas-bahu fare, and half the viewership is confused about plots and storylines.

Actor Rohit Roy says that while TV has been a great training ground for him, he doesn’t really have the time or desire to do TV, “not with the kind of programming that is evident today.” He adds, “Ninety per cent of actors are bored out of their skulls doing the same thing.” Especially when all characters, in all soaps, across channels and networks look the same. Besides this redundancy of plot and storylines, Roy elaborates that “even camera techniques and angles — like the swish pans are all the same.”
The audience, evidently, is keen on content and will respond positively to interestingly mounted family dramas. Like Roy says, we have been exposed to enough American programming, and “Indians are ready for bolder sequences, and more risqué shows”.

Roy says unless it’s a venture that excites him — “I enjoy reality shows” — he isn’t willing to look back at TV just yet. But he’s willing to make exceptions for hosting, say, another Jhalak Dikhla Jaa.

Perhaps vindicating all smug American sitcom watchers, three out of five respondents of the survey demanded faster, more progressive serials that have some semblance to the real world. Respondents also sought exposure to different cultures and foreign locales.

Over 50 per cent were keen to sample new content, and 18 per cent felt that they would completely switch from what’s currently on offer. People from smaller towns preferred simpler story lines, and were as vocal in demanding a change as their metro counterparts.

Sukesh Motwani, programming head for the recently launched channel Zee Next, says his target audience is in the 15-25 age group — that bracket which constitutes a sizeable chunk of the TV audience. And in accordance, “the protagonists are aspiring, often small-town youngsters, who are different from irreverent metro youth”.

Amit Agnihotri, co-founder Exchange 4 Media Group (a media analysis and publishing company) says, “The current saas-bahu format has been around for six-seven years now, and this has let to monotony in the primetime general entertainment channels.”

A message for story writers and content developers is that they need to focus on differentiated products, with a strong emphasis on content and innovation. So even if soaps are still family centric, “channels need to take cognisance of the fact that India is changing rapidly, and a formula created in 2000 will definitely need a revamp in 2008,” says Agnihotri.
Motwani concedes there is a conscious move on their channels’ part to stay away from saas-bahu soaps. But at the same time making an effort to not alienate older viewers — be it a parent or an elder sibling. That’s because, as Motwani puts it, “Indians are still suckers for emotion”.