Alarming! Mexican telenovela Killing Nollywood Creativity

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Television audiences in Nige­ria appear to have hit great af­finity to soap operas produced in India and South America. Bad news is that it is hurting local creativity.

Television was eagerly looked for­ward to in the 70s and 80s. Most evenings, neighbours, who were not privileged to own television sets would cluster around any that was avail­able in the vicinity. The audience would be glued to the sets, taking in every ac­tion and emotions of the characters on-screen. Thereafter, they would leave with so much suspense, wondering what would happen next. Often times, some members of the audience would shed tears over the agonies of a character.

Perhaps those days are over, at least with respect to Nigeria-made soap op­eras.

Those were the days of the monumen­tally successful soap operas like New Masquerade, Village Headmaster, Be­hind the Clouds, Checkmate, Mirror in the Sun, and Cock Crow at Dawn to men­tion a few.

But this excitement seems to have left the Nigerian audience. Although a few soap operas, like Tinsel, Spider, Domino, Treasures, Super Story and Footprints, amongst others have emerged in the last couple of years, fortified with fair acting, and technical details, none has been able to sway the audience like it was the case in those days, when acting and filming were probably at their lowest ebbs in Ni­geria’s televisions history. The situation however portends a scary picture when compared to the reaction of the Nigerian audience to soap operas imported from India and South America like Passion, Secrets of the Sands, The rich also Cry, When You are Mine, and Second Chance, which have over the years, recorded as­tounding success with the Nigerian au­diences that the faces of the stars in the soaps are currently ‘illegally’ branding products in Nigeria.

Arts Lounge learn’t that the adver­tising revenues in Mexican soaps, like When you are Mine, was so much that the local marketing company in charge of advertising became selective about the commercials to carry. While the lo­cal soap opera producers are keen to see the industry blossom, a lot of challenges seem to be confronting them.

Producer and director, Chico Ejiro, who has a soap, Treasures says the prob­lems are a reflection of the problems afflicting the entire nation. “One of the biggest challenges we have is the lack of sponsorship, which is traceable to the economy. The truth is that we have many shows pursuing the few commercials. If you take a look at the movie industry, you will realize that there was a time when the sales were high, until people came from all walks of life. The same thing is happening in the soap opera industry now. But a few of us, who have a knack for quality, still manage to confront the challenges.

But it is not easy. Bolaji Dawodu, a di­rector, whose directorial skills excited audiences in Checkmate (and currently in some of the soap operas from Wale Adenuga Productions) heaps the blame on the poor talent in the industry. “If you produce a soap that is good, there is no way, advertisers will not come. I tell the young ones that they must come up with fantastic ideas that advertisers can­not afford to resist, before complaining that things are so bad. When we were younger, we understudied people; that has been thrown overboard today. These days, what they do is to graduate and think they can do it one day. It has never worked that way”.

Jerry Isichei, who produces Foot­prints, another soap opera currently run­ning on 20 stations, told Art Lounge that he decided to branch off to television soap operas when it became difficult to recoup investments in the movie indus­try, but cited one of the greatest pains of the TV soap industry as the price of airtime. “There was a movie I shot in Nollywood a couple of years back, and I was almost drowned in debts because of piracy. That was why I decided to move to soap operas because here we do not bother about pirates, but things are not so well here as well. After sourcing funds to make the soap opera, you will have to contend with the greatest challenge, which is paying for air time.”

Air time, Arts Lounge, learnt is as high as N1.2million on the network ser­vice of the African Independent Televi­sion for an episode of a soap opera that runs for thirty minutes. At Silverbird Television, with about five television sta­tions on its network, it is not any easier as most soap opera producers are usually asked to pay at least 70% of the value of the cost of the air time in a quarter be­fore the programme begins to run. It is only when these conditions are met that the producer would begin to look for commercials.

Aside this, the Nigerian audience ap­pears not to be having the suspense that would command viewership, which is vital for the success of a soap. Mojaide Mariah, a publisher, who once document­ed the lives of some Mexican stars on Ni­gerian TV, told Art Lounge that suspense is what the Mexican writers have over their Nigerian counterparts. “If you fol­low the Mexican or Indian soap opera, you will realise that they have suspense, which makes Nigerians want to see the end of the programme. I have published a number of books on the stars from the Mexican soap and they sold well, but can I do that with the stars in our local soap opera? Mexican and Indian soap operas know how to hold the audience and since they are shown on daily basis in most cases, Nigerians do not have any option than following the story because they are equally interesting.”

While it may seem that the bane of soap operas in Nigeria lied on the fact that the producers usually cast unknown faces, the trend has been changing these days with a lot of movie stars, being of­fered roles in the soaps. But this has not helped so much.

Madu Chikwendu, another filmmaker said, the success of the Mexican soaps in the country can be traced to people put­ting their best feet forward. “All over the world, South America is known for their tele-novella culture. Their movies are not as hot as their soaps, and they have realised that and right now they are ev­erywhere. Nigeria can do the same thing with what they are best known for”.

Nigerian can do a great deal also by creating stories that are indigenous to them, which would hold audiences for long similar to what Coronation Street, has been able to do in the Western World to become the longest running soap in history.

Credit: National Mirror

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