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Small screen

The big three English channels run more or less neck and neck but Headlines neither has the ratings nor the credibility that a channel needs to be taken seriously, writes Poonam Saxena.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2007 22:46 IST
Poonam Saxena

Finally my cablewallah has woken up and I’m getting 9X (the general entertainment channel) and 9XM (the music channel) on my set. Given the fact that there are so many channels vying for viewer attention, it’s tough for new ventures to differentiate themselves. But 9XM seems to have managed this difficult task in two ways. First, it has done away with Western music; it’s a Hindi-only channel.

This has to be the smartest thing for a music channel to do. FM channels realised this fact long ago; most of them are either pure Bollywood or heavily Bollywood oriented. Second, 9XM (so far) has no veejays – also a good thing. I don’t know about everyone, but I find all those self-consciously hip and cool veejays doing their “Yo guys!” stuff a bit trying now. And I rather like the Bakwaas Bandh Karo characters and their seriously bad jokes. In a crowded market, freshness is always welcome.

It’s hard to know what to make of 9X. So far it seems indistinguishable from every other Hindi channel. This may be a good thing — people like seeing the same old thing. Or it may be too much of what’s already available. We will have to wait and see how the market — rather than TV critics — responds to its serials.

So far, the one that has struck me as being potentially interesting is Smriti Irani’s Mere Apne, allegedly set in Benares during a period of time that varies from frame to frame and featuring a heavyweight in the form of Vinod Khanna who, like Smriti herself, gets heavier each year. It’s not very different from everything else on the box but the outdoor shots make it seem a little fresher.

Of the others Ekta Kapoor’s Kahe Na Kahe is exactly the same as every other serial Ekta Kapoor has ever made while Jiya Jale is pretty awful. I’m told that some people like the comedies but I’m not necessarily a fan of the genre so I will refrain from offering an opinion. Promos of a music show called Mission Ustad look slick and glossy but in a TV world where every channel runs its own slick music show, we’ll have to see how different it really is.

9X is the first of three new Hindi entertainment channels. Apart from NDTV Imagine (a strange name for a Hindi channel unless it’s meant to be a come on to Yoko Ono), there’s also the Network 18 Viacom venture still to come. Regardless of how it does, one thing is clear: the general entertainment space will change beyond recognition in the next few months. And I doubt if Star can hold on to its lead for much longer with Star One languishing and Star Plus under attack from Zee.

Meanwhile, has anyone been watching Headlines Today? The channel has gone through many transformations starting out as a headlines-only service where children peered prettily at the auto cue and then attempting briefly to be taken seriously as a grown-up channel.

Now the latest transformation is that it has gone so downmarket and become so tabloidesque that it makes Times Now seem upmarket. And compared to most of the anchors on Headlines, Arnab Goswami seems like Walter Cronkite. There’s no real news on the channel but there are Hindi channel-type stories on Dawood’s brother in Dubai, on the antics of movie stars or Navratri dancing. The anchors are all unknown and likely to remain so. In the evenings, a strange girl stares dolefully at the camera and delivers entertainment news in a deranged tone of voice that is frankly disturbing.

Whatever the rationale, it’s hard to see how long TV Today can keep this show on the road. The big three English channels (NDTV, CNN IBN and Times Now) run more or less neck and neck but Headlines neither has the ratings nor the credibility that a channel needs to be taken seriously.

Otherwise, it’s been business as usual for the news channels.

The only developments of note are that Rajdeep Sardesai is appearing rather more often than usual on his own channel, that Sagarika Ghose has adopted a rather unusual hairstyle and that Times Now has a hard-working plump late night anchor who never seems to go off the air.

And the most watchable person on news television remains an amateur: Navjot Singh Sidhu. Now here’s a man who knows how to use a deranged tone of voice to his advantage.