How do you define election programming in India? It’s not so difficult. You draw up a pool of about 20 people.
Then each day, you invite a few of these 20 to your show and conduct a predictable discussion.
As there are four major English news channels and many have two or three discussion programmes, it is inevitable that there won’t be enough guests to go around — after all, there are only 20 people in the pool.
So, day after day, all the channels have identical discussions with identical guests.
If you watched the first discussion, then you’ll know exactly what the guests will say on the second or third — they don’t even bother to think of new lines.
Perhaps this can’t be helped. If Balbir Punj is the only man authorised to defend Varun Gandhi on TV, then he will have to make a dozen TV appearances each evening.
But many times, there are alternatives. It’s just that the channels seem too lazy to think of new guests.
I suspect Soli Sorabjee and Harish Salve have now cancelled all their social engagements because all they do is go from channel to channel saying exactly the same thing.
Nor are the experts restricted to any one channel. Times Now told us that it had a special panel including Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Vinod Mehta and Swapan Dasgupta.
Since that announcement was made, I have seen Guha Thakurta on NDTV and Vinod Mehta on other channels too. Swapan Dasgupta even features in the CNN-IBN promos.
The consequence of all this is that election programming — so far — suffers from a sense of staleness and deja vu. Everyone is doing the same show with the same guests discussing the same issue. There must be a better way of covering an election. Maybe we’ll find out once the elections actually get under way.
Meanwhile, at least one old star has made a comeback in this campaign. It is a delight to watch Mani Shankar Aiyar on television. His caustic wit and his utter and complete disgust with the level of discussion and the caliber of guests on TV shows serves as a reality check in the unreal world of news TV. Wit and humour in any case are in notoriously short supply since everyone takes himself/herself so seriously.
I’ve been watching the so-called lifestyle channels for all of last week. It’s much less fun than I thought it would be. NDTV Good Times may have exciting programming during the day but at primetime it gets a little dull. I could be imagining this but they showed the making of the Kingfisher calendar almost every night. Nor were such shows as Cut and Picture Perfect particularly interesting.
Worse still, was the sense of advertorial or Medianet that characterised the channel. One show with Perizaad Zorabian tread a perilously dangerous line between advertising and editorial. Other shows promoted luggage companies and destinations that had clearly paid to be featured or offered some form of sponsorship.
Some of the food programming was okay. The Highway On A Plate boys retain a sense of fun. And Aditya Bal makes a good anchor on Chakh Le India. But surely a lot of the other stuff is now way past its sell by date. Does anybody still enjoy watching Lounge with Rajat Kapoor?
Discovery Travel and Living was certainly much better than Good Times.
But even there, there seemed to be too male a focus for a channel that should appeal to women as well.
There were so many programmes about motorcycles, cars, tattoo artists and the like. I would have much preferred to see more cooking (Nigella Lawson if not Kwylie Kong), some light fashion and a little more Indian content.
But then, I am not the average viewer of lifestyle channels. So perhaps the programmers know what their audiences want.