Comedy: No laughing matter for Hindi GECs

MUMBAI: Despite being the second most popular content category on Hindi GECs after dramas, the demand for comedy content outstrips supply. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that comedy is in short supply on mainline Hindi GECs.

Currently, the demand for comedy content in Hindi speaking markets is being fulfilled by channels like Sony SAB and Big Magic, which are positioned as light-hearted family entertainment channels. Fiction comedy is the main staple of these channels.

The mainline Hindi GECs, on the hand, are pre-occupied with non-fiction comedy content comprising mainly stand-up comedy shows like ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’ on Sony Entertainment Television (SET), and The Great Indian Laughter Challenge on Star Plus.

The second rung GECs like Star Bharat and &TV too have sitcom as part of their line-up to provide variety to viewers. However, there is a genuine scarcity of quality comedy content on Hindi GECs barring a few exceptions.

However, this was not the case say a decade back, when comedy shows were galore on Hindi GECs. Infact, comedy shows formed the backbone of many channels including the likes Zee TV and SET.

Back in the 90s, Hindi GECs were packed with several comedy-dramas from ‘Family No. 1’, ‘Hum Paanch’, ‘Dekh Bhai Dekh’, ‘Office Office’, ‘Khichdi’ and ‘Tu Tu Main Main’.

Cut to today, comedy has taken a backseat for most Hindi GECs as dramas and reality shows have gained prominence.

In 2017, comedy comprised 13% of the total viewership share, as opposed to 14% in 2016. (The period considered for both the years is from week 8-50, BARC). The year 2017 saw nine comedy shows getting launched across four mainstream Hindi GECs Colors, SET, Star Plus and Star Bharat.

So what explains this gap between the demand for comedy content and lack of supply? finds out.

Speaking about the fall in the number of comedy shows on mainstream Hindi GECs, Ormax Media CEO Shailesh Kapoor said that comedy has been an under-served genre in India for the last 25 years.

“While 3-4 shows like ‘Taarak Mehta’, ‘Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai’, ‘Kya Haal Mr. Paanchal’ and ‘The Kapil Sharma Show’ are successful, the audience demand for comedy is a lot more than the number of good shows available,” Kapoor noted.

Agreeing with the Kapoor, SET senior creative director Ashish Golwalkar agrees that there is a dearth of comedy shows on Hindi GECs today. However, he notes that comedy genre is very tough to crack and Hindi GECs don’t want to take that kind of risk.

“Apart from SAB and Big Magic, I don’t think anyone is doing much on comedy genre. Comedy in itself is very challenging and it very tough to do a comedy show. Earlier there were many shows like ‘Shrimaan Shrimati’, ‘Office Office’, hopefully, in future, someone will crack the code and will bring back the comedy genre on mainstream GECs,” he stated.

Big Magic General Manager Amarpreet Singh Saini contends that there is enough comedy content on GECs; however, the nature and style of the shows have changed.

“It is one of the toughest genres to do justice with, as even under comedy there are certain elements that might not resonate with a certain set of audiences,” he stated.

Lack of comedy on mainstream GECs can also be attributed to the fact that networks like Sony and ZEEL have full-fledged comedy GECs in their bouquet. While Star India’s second Star Bharat has a sitcom as it tentpole show.

Giving the production house’s perspective, JD Majethia of Hats Off Productions, which has produced shows like ‘Sarabhai vs Sarabhai’, said that there is sufficient comedy it’s just that the number of channels has increased.

“Today, we have dedicated channels for comedy genre which is why we don’t see much of comedy shows on Hindi GEC. But there are few channels that have one or two comedy shows apart from regular reality shows. We are bringing back Khichdi on Star Plus, so it is not that Hindi GEC is not doing comedy shows,” Majethia said.

According to Kapoor, the shortage of comedy content can also be attributed to the success ratio of comedy shows which is very poor. “Many shows have been launched in this genre over the years. Only about 10% of comedy shows work, which is a much lower ratio than other genres like family, romance, mythology or historical,” he said.

Apart from the poor success ratio, the lack of talented scriptwriters is also a major challenge when it comes to producing comedy shows, he added. “Also, in a daily show format, it is difficult to sustain humour on a day-on-day basis, unless there’s a strong team of writers,” he added.

However, producers JD Majethia and Binaifer Kohli, of the ‘Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hai’ and ‘FIR’ fame, feel that there is enough talent. Kohli also stated that since content has become the king mindless comedy doesn’t work anymore.

“A well-scripted comedy show has always been hit amongst audience inspite of where it is aired. If the script is good then the show will work. Right now, not as a challenge but having a good script-writer is important,” she added.

Another major challenge faced by comedy genre on TV is that it has to be family inclusive. “The other constraint comedy faces is that it has to be family-inclusive for it to work. So, the kind of comedy that works on the Internet (e.g. Permanent Roommates, Pitchers, etc.) doesn’t work on TV, as it is more youth-targeted than family-inclusive. This limits the choice of subjects to a large extent,” Kapoor stated.

In an interview to earlier, Sony SAB business head Neeraj Vyas had stated that running a dedicated comedy channel is a huge challenge as India is the only country where we have to generate shows every day.

“We got into a zone where people want the daily fix Monday-Friday. The Monday-Friday fix is a mad reality which is very difficult to execute. Soap yet has a benefit of changing character and audiences are okay with it. We tried all sort of experiments with our daily shows but I can’t do any of it in comedy because my characters are the life of the show, if Jethalal changes the show is gone. If somebody else plays Tenali, 80% chances are that the show won’t work,” Vyas explained. He also pointed out that the talent required to produce quality comedy content is lacking.

Saini said that the other challenge for comedy genre is to create platform-agnostic content which traverses through media successfully. She also stated that digital has offered the audience a plethora of comedy content to viewers.

“Today, the audience is exposed to a plethora of content due to growing popularity of digital platforms which has brought a shift in the viewership. It is this benchmark that the TV players need to match while keeping the local sensibilities intact in their offering. In today’s time, the audience needs to be super-served, as their attention span is either extremely low or extremely high,” Saini said.

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