Television is probably the biggest source of entertainment worldwide and a very prominent part of the pop culture world. Also, Television or TV (as everyone calls it), plays a huge part in my life. Growing up, it fascinated me like no other gadget and I lapped up everything it had to offer. From Doordarshan to MTV India, from Zee TV to ESPN and Discovery, I watched everything with utmost curiosity as a kid. TV broadcast in India started in the late 1950s with Doordarshan and is going strong ever since. In this column, let us see how the mainstream Indian Television Landscape has evolved over the years.
The entry of Zee TV and SONY Entertainment Television (1992-2000)
The first major shift in Indian TV landscape came, when Zee TV entered the scene in 1992 and became a huge deal with its new age programming and better production value. Soon other channels like Sony Entertainment Television followed Zee and gave tough competition to Doordarshan, at least in the cities. I remember in the mid-1990s having a cable connection was considered the coolest thing ever. As a kid, especially the 5-8 pm band on Sony, where they broadcasted the American Shows dubbed in Hindi, was super popular. Cable TV in the 90s produced some of the most iconic shows like Amanat, Basera, Saaya, Banegi Apni Baat, Hum Paanch, Hip Hip Hurray, Tara, Just Mohabbat, Family No.1, Hum Sab Ek Hain, Aahat, Zee Horror Show, Antakshari, Sa Re Ga Ma, CID, India’s Most Wanted, Khana Khazana, Boogie Woogie et al. The programming back then had so much variety as most of the shows were weeklies and the GECs were general in the truest sense. Zee and Sony were like India’s answer to America’s NBC and ABC back then and covered all genres of entertainment be it sitcoms, dramas, musical shows, non-fiction, everything found its place. (Zee and Sony were free to air back then and became pay channels only in the early 2000s)
The relaunch and dominance of Star Plus (2000-2005)
The competition among the GECs grew fierce in 2000, when Star Plus (earlier primarily an English Pay Channel) relaunched itself as a Hindi GEC. Riding on the back of some really innovating programming, soon Star Plus went past Zee and Sony in the ratings game. It produced three most iconic shows in the history of Indian TV (Kaun Banega Crorepati(KBC), Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki – the K Shows). All three shows soared in the ratings charts and made the weekdays 9-11 pm band the new prime time. Also, this was when the dailies came into vogue in a big way. Along with these shows, Star Plus experimented with various genres and produced plethora of shows ranging from Kids entertainment (Shaka Laka Boom Boom, Sonpari) to Suspense/Thrillers (Kahin Kissi Roz, Krishna Arjun), from Teen Age Drama (Kyun Hota Hai Pyar) to Romance Sagas (Kasauti Zindagi Ki, Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chand) and Sitcoms (Khichdi), from Devotional/Travel (Yatra) to Game Shows (Khul Ja Sim Sim, Kya Masti Kya Dhoom). Star Plus’ programming was so robust in the first five years of the 2000s that 80 of the top 100 time slots in the weekly ratings were occupied by them. Also, Star Plus is probably the only channel that experimented with day time shows and was pretty strong in the 1-3pm band with shows like Kumkum, Bhabhi, Shagun and Kabhi Aaye Na Judaai becoming really popular. Also, the four shows with one hour format that replaced KBC drew massive audiences (Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chand, Kehta Hai Dil, Sanjeevani and Sara Akash). They also had creative names for their programming time bands like Star Dopahar, Star Shanivar, Star Shukravaar ( ala NBC Must See TV). Star Plus became so huge that they started an awards nite of their own called the Star Parivaar Awards which is still a huge annual TV event.
Reality Shows (2005)
When Star Plus was dominating the GEC scene in the early 2000s and its fiction shows ruled the charts, Sony and Zee both came up with reality shows that grabbed eyeballs. Sony started with Indian Idol, an Indian version of Pop Idol and Fame Gurukul, both of which were very successful. Zee TV followed suit and revamped Sa Re Ga Ma Pa in a reality show format which became a run away hit. Soon all GECs were dabbling with reality TV especially on the weekends some of which like Nach Baliye, Jhalak Dikhla Ja, Dance India Dance, Bigg Boss are still popular. Reality shows genre became stronger with the arrival of Colors in 2008 which still continues to air shows like Jhalak Dikhlaja, Bigg Boss and Khatron Ke Khiladi which are immensely popular.
Social Shows based in Small Towns (2006)
In 2005 when Star Plus was still the leader, Zee revamped its programming and launched a show that marked Zee TV’s resurgence to the top. The show was based on the struggles of a dark skinned girl in Rajasthan and was called Saath Phere : Saloni Ka Safar. This coupled with two other shows Kasam Se and Banoo Main Teri Dulhan (based on illiteracy) brought back Zee TV in the ratings game in a big way. Star Plus too launched a show based on a dark skinned girl called Sapna Babul Ka..Bidaai which was a run away hit. But one channel that took the small town/social genre to another level was Colors. Colors launched in 2008 when the long running Star Plus shows (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki) were shutting shop. Colors soon became the number one channel riding on the success of two rural shows on social taboo (Balika Vadhu and Na Aana Is Des Lado). Sooner than later, every GEC was making shows based on social taboos with dialects. Star Plus launched Pratigya, Zee TV brought Agle Janam Bitiya Hi Kijo on air and suddenly small town dialects got representation and also success. Star Plus too did a major rebranding with a new logo and slogan (Rishta Wahi Soch Nayi) and launched shows like Diya Aur Baati Hum (women empowerment) and Saath Nibhana Saathiya (illiteracy) both set in small towns that ruled the ratings charts for years. (Saath Nibha Saathiya was massive because it ruled the roost despite being aired at 7pm slot which was considered to be a dead slot before).
Supernatural Shows (2015)
The latest trend that has caught the fancy of the masses is soap operas based on a Supernatural theme. Balaji Telefilms invented the genre back in early 2000s with Kya Haadsa Kya Haqueeqat on Sony but the show that brought back the genre in vogue again was Colors ‘Sasuraal Simar Ka‘. The show that actually started as a mundane daily soap took a supernatural twist somewhere in the middle of its run and its ratings soared. Soon, Colors launched a new seasonal show Naagin based on Indian folklore and it became the number #1 show. Zee TV also launched Brahmarakshas which was quite successful in its short run. As Naagin is still doing well in its fifth season, the trend is still quite popular and will remain so in the coming years.