Recently, Star Plus ran a curious message onscreen during the telecast of primetime show, Iss Pyar Ko Kya Naam Doon (IPKKND). It said that IPKKND's lead actor Barun Sobti had decided to leave the show for movies, that the channel had tried to convince him to change his mind but failed, so they had no option but to end the serial. This was a strange message to telecast for two reasons: one, actors leave TV shows all the time, and they are either killed off onscreen or simply replaced by other actors. For example, Gia Manek, the actress who played the docile bahu in Star Plus's Saathiya, was replaced the instant she decided to participate in a rival channel's dance show (Jhalak Dikhla Ja). So what was the big deal about Barun leaving? Two, the onscreen message was clearly the Star Plus version - but was it the truthful version? Frankly, I thought it was unfair as it seemed to be passing the blame on to the actor. In any case, I don't remember any channel putting out this kind of message in the past - ever.
So what happened? Well, TV fandom happened, that's what. This is a phenomenon that our television industry is only just beginning to encounter, though it's been around in the West for years (internationally, TV awards are given not just to the best actor, best actress etc but also to the best fandom).
A television show's fandom - the real thing - is usually global and not restricted to the country where the TV show in question originated. It finds its voice on the Internet - through passionately maintained blogs, imaginative fan fiction, on dedicated fansites etc. It can be obsessive. The fans always know more about the characters, story and show trivia than even the producers, directors or actors. Fandoms often form around cult shows, not necessarily the highest-rated shows. They are highly polarized (fans attach themselves to individual characters who they proceed to love to death) and hard to please. But they're also fanatically loyal.
IPKKND was never the No. 1 show on Star Plus, though it was usually in the top ten. But it became one of the few Indian shows to acquire a vociferous, committed global fandom which created such uproar at the idea of seeing anyone else but Barun Sobti in the lead role, that neither the channel nor the production house had the guts to replace him.
When IPKKND began a year-and-a-half ago as a sizzling Mills and Boon-type love story, it attracted fans from all over the world. Even when the show began deteriorating, the fans remained onboard. Perhaps they were happy to just see their beloved lead pair on screen, even if they grumbled (rightly) that the storyline had turned to dust.
Few shows are lucky enough to attract a dedicated fandom. Entertainment channels houses here should take a leaf out of what happens abroad. They should learn to harvest the loyalty of fandoms to keep their shows robust and long-lasting. Never ignore the fans, no matter how crazy they seem. They're the life breath of any show. And you can't get them, not with money, not with marketing. They come to you.