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Friday, February 13, 2009

Is the monotony of reality TV leading to its demise?

Uganda has had its taste of reality shows with several contestants representing the country. Dennis D. Muhumuza writes about the challenges faced by our stars and the fate of these shows

Since the 2003 Big Brother Africa 1, reality television gripped Ugandans and the excitement continued to rise with the screening of other shows such as Pop Idols, Project Fame, Face of Africa, Show me the Money, Hot Steps and The Apprentice Africa.

But nothing seemed to attract more than BBA. The moralists may have branded it "big bother" but the idea of locking 12 complete strangers; males and females in a house for 98 days; seeing them play dirty to win the race, the tears and frustration of evictees or seeing the remnants on the edge of breakdown as the pressure of possible eviction mounted and the speculation over who had sex with whom, was seen by many viewers as entertainment par excellence.

That was in 2003 and later 2007. This year the verdict on BBA has not been favourable with critics and bloggers judging it dull and uninteresting; a "big bore." This is because it returned too soon. Viewers were still relishing talking about the romantic rollercoaster Tanzania's randy boy, Richard (BBA 2 winner) had had with his partner in the "steamy crime", Angola's Tatiana, when lo, BBA3 was thrust upon us! There was hardly any room for desiring it again.

Morris Mugisha's cool-like-cucumber disposition and laid-back temperament would not help him much in the quest for the fame and fortune that BBA had laid on the table.

It's a dynamic world; the producers might want to take a long nap and arise with a fresh package; perhaps a new location and more housemates. Heck, they should even consider switching the field presenters with chosen contestants, if that is what it will take to keep the over 27 million viewers glued to the show. Otherwise, it's unforgivable to bore your viewers twice consecutively.

It has been said that to be an entertainer, the most important thing is to have a skill or talent. Esther Nabaasa proved to have both, with an extra charm (those eyes!) and a magnetic stage presence as she beat 17 contestants and hummed her way to winning the April 2008 Tusker Project Fame.

Then there was the show's judge, Ian Mbagua, who critics accused of being an irritating imitation of Simon Cowell of American Idol. However, Mbagua's acidic tongue against the lacklustre academy performers was likeable. Then there was our own Tshaka Mayanja. His massive frame and potbelly made him distinct, ok, as much, his perceptible quips. But nothing is remembered of the third adjudicator, Dan Kiondo.

So was the second season of Tusker Project Fame boring or a flop? It seems nothing really went wrong until after the show. The participants had the talent, the ambition and the zeal. The fierce battle was between Kenya's Wendy Kimani and David Ogola and Uganda's Esther Nabaasa. In the end, our 21-year old took the fame and the Shs130m prize along with a recording contract from Gallo Records.

A couple of months later, we are asking what happened. The long awaited album is not coming and we wonder if the promising Nabaasa is still relevant? Endemol East Africa, the producers of the show or Gallo Records owe her fans an explanation.

Like Tusker Project Fame 2, Pop Idols Africa kicked off in earnest. For the contestants, all eyes were set on the recording deal from Sony BMG and the whopping $80,000 prize money.

The judges were free spirits; a hip hop artiste from Botswana, Scar (Thato Matlhabaphiri), a Kenyan radio presenter, Angela Angwenyi and Zambian music producer Trevor 'TK' Siyandi. But don't be duped; they were as bad as the wannabes they were adjudicating. My God, they were so bad that I don't even know the winner that was. Uganda seemed gratified with the performance of Faycal Birikunzila who had flopped in the Coca Cola Pop Idols that birthed Blu*3. And then there was this controversy surrounding his nationality – some saying he was Rwandan but he insisting he was Ugandan.

Ultimately, what should have been a talent show ended up as a popularity show – meaning if you had a likable face but a horrible voice you still had higher chances of becoming the next African idol.

The homemade shows: Hot Steps and Show Me the Money became hits on NTV. In the former, dancers vigorously moved their bodies for Shs10m. The moves were quite contagious as viewers were served a hot meal of African dances from Bakisimba to Congolese wiggles and a variety of contemporary dances.

The fun in Show Me the Money lay in the original, seemingly crazy but practical ideas that contestants mesmerised the judges with. One wanted to use banana peels as a source of renewable energy and another contestant wanted to create herbal tea that would also act as an anti-malaria drug.

Then there was the first season of The Apprentice Africa. 18 dynamic, business-minded individuals gathered in Lagos and for 18 vigorous weeks and competed for a corporate job. The show was dubbed the gold standard of business excellence because it measured the contestants' business acumen, marketing, leadership, public relations and problem-solving skills in an entertaining way.

Contestants were given diverse business tasks such as creating marketing communications campaigns, inventing and selling artworks, designing mission statements and television commercials, refurbishing and redecorating hotel rooms and vending ropes on the streets.

The cohesion, novelty and innovativeness mixed with overwhelming ambitions, and the varied personalities of contenders, the boardroom drama as they fought for their lives, the politics and intrigue made the show fun. The CEO was an imposing and unpredictable man called Shobanjo who seemed to enjoy shooting down contestants with three most dreaded words: "You are fired!"

A self-made Nigerian billionaire, Shobanjo detests laziness and mediocrity. There was a loud-mouthed cunning Nigerian lawyer named Akatu who touted himself as a shrewd negotiator and dubbed himself "AK 47." There was also a charismatic Cameroonian woman and an arrogant but exposed gorgeous lady called Eunice, vivacious Omar who added an executive quality to the show. Not forgetting our boy Deox whose calculative moves and confidence outshone everyone else. But in the end June 22, a humble but "deep, solid man," Ghana’s Isaac Dankyi-Koranteng was pronounced the winner.

From the general recap, how did the glut of these reality shows on our small screens fair? I think we were not much moved. Many draw from the American versions which are excellently organised and executed. Our contestants lacked innovation and creativity; so we had Ricco imitating Richard to get his hands to the prize.

So, many people turned their attention to the American campaigns. For the first time in history, a wife of a former president was challenging an African American for the nomination of a major party. The African American was victorious and the drama became more real BBA and other reality shows whose hallmark is immorality were shunned for the English premiership soccer, and stiffly opposed in west and central Africa.

It explains why there was no media buzz when Morris Mugisha returned from BBA. Looks like TV stations are going to have to pull up their sleeves next year if they are going to hook us onto reality shows.

--Daily Monitor, Saturday, December 20, 2008