TV Serial Hypothesis
Updated: Sep 20
I have grown up watching Indian TV. Reality, Fiction, Mythology, Comedy, Supernatural, you name it, everything. My dream job would be to write for a Hindi TV show as I know how to start a show and then perfectly ruin it.
Yes, that's how a soap opera works. They start with an idea, develop it, continue for some months, and then they get another idea. They mix this new idea with the original idea, and the process continues till they no longer have any idea about what is happening and, after 5 to 6 years, they end the show.
Once upon a time, I was obsessed with daily soaps and knew exactly what was happening in all the shows. And plus, when you have a grandmother who constantly watches even the repeats of the shows, you pretty much know everything. Even now, watching these shows is one of my guilty pleasures. I find it so fascinating how one family could have so many problems in their life.
I don't understand when people say TV serials have no creativity. What do you think these supernatural shows are? 'Sasural Simar Ka' was so high on creativity that there was a point when Simar was sent to heaven and hell. There have been so many unique love stories of a human and 'Naagin', 'Genie', 'Tiger', 'Robot' and who can forget the bad remake of 'Twilight' where in the end, the Vampire convert to a normal human being.
On a serious note, Hindi TV shows lack script and execution. They have a primary plot line that keeps changing to a point where it feels like you have watched ten shows in one. Very rarely a show sticks to its original plot until the very end.
But Indian TV was not always bad, and there were good shows with good content. But now there are more quantity shows than quality.
The daily soaps are all about women, fighting against other women, watched by women and also produced by women. Ekta Kapoor started the 'Saas Bahu' trend, which was a big hit. So all the other makers started following her by doing the exact same thing that she did and still continue to do. Even with the competition, she is still the undisputed queen of daily soaps, with her shows topping the charts. Her shows have inspired many women writers, and her successful franchise of 'Naagin' is an inspiration to supernatural elements in all other shows.
Indian TV is one of the most prominent examples of Feminism and Women empowerment. It is filled with a variety of women characters who are strong, brave, lively, bubbly, confident, independent, shy, naïve, opinionated, ambitious, selfless, selfish, intelligent, cunning, crazy, and psycho. Most of the shows are female-oriented, and the target audience is also women. It is an understatement to say that women are slaying in this department. They are also inspiring women in various forms. For example, in 'Diya Aur Baati Hum', the female lead Sandhya became an IPS officer after her marriage and inspired many women to achieve their dreams.
While half of the characters are positive, some are also shown in a bad light, while some negative characters are blotch on women and humanity. They are presented as schemers and criminals, and their deeds are downright horrific. For example, Svetlana in 'Ishqbaaz', Tanveer/Razia/Sanam in 'Qubool Hai', Tapasya in 'Uttaran' (who later turned positive), Maya in 'Beyhadh', and many more.
Another reason that attracts women is the 'Superheroinism' of the female lead. Daily soap shows the female lead tackling all the problems independently and saving her in-laws without help. Other people are obsessed with Marvel and DC superheroes; for the TV audience, these women are no less than superheroes.
The reason shows like 'Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi',' Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki', 'Balika Vadhu', 'Sasural Simar Ka', etc. were watched by many because they showed the lead being an ideal daughter-in-law. She is no less than a Goddess, fighting against the villains on her own and solving all the problems, including fighting with ghosts, beasts and witches. Shows like 'Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai', 'Yeh Hai Mohabbatein', 'Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi' changed the perception of the ideal daughter-in-law. She now simultaneously does household and professional work while also taking care of all the problems concerning their family.
The screen space generally given to the male leads is also changing, and even they are getting to perform an equally important role, if not more. Shows like 'Ishqbaaz' (story of 3 brothers), 'Jamai Raja', 'Dev', and '24' were male-centric and happily accepted by the audience.
What does an audience want?
We have already established that the target audience of TV serials is women; even men watch these shows. People of all ages have different likes and demands, and surprisingly there are shows which cater to the needs of all age groups. As most of the audience is of middle age, most shows are also dramas or popularly known as 'Saas-Bahu' Sagas. There are many romantic and thriller shows with some drama infused for the young-adult audience. Historical, Mythological, Comedy and Reality shows are for all age groups, and Supernatural shows are for the aliens.
The one thing that is missing in all these shows is logic. Indian TV defies logic, and they never make sense. Even historical and mythological shows are not 100% true and are a work of only 5% facts and 95% fiction. Comedy shows are comedy because they don't make any sense, and Reality shows with celebrities are mostly scripted. So what actually does the audience wants?
The audience wants drama and entertainment. They don't watch for stories, performances, messages, or life-altering moments. They don't want to see anything realistic to which they can relate to. They want to see something entirely different from their mundane life, something so over the top that they are glad it's not happening in their life.
Some people take it as entertainment while some seriously get involved and make it a part of their life. For example, 'Bigg Boss' is a top-rated show many people watch. It actually shows the standard of people as they get enjoyment seeing other people/celebrities in misery, fighting with each other and embarrassing themselves. Some people watch it for entertainment purposes, while some people actively take part in promoting their favourites and defaming other contestants. They also get into these fan wars for their favourites who don't even know they exist.
The Number Game
There are two groups of the audience – The online group and the TRP (Television Rating Point) group. TRP group likes drama, while the online group likes good content. The audience watches daily soaps online and shows their support or hatred on forums and Twitter. TRP audience watches on television, and their support or disdain for the show is reflected in the ratings the show gets. There is no way to calculate online ratings, so even if there is a lot of buzz around a show, its fate depends upon the television ratings.
The audience contributing to the ratings is the target audience, so the plots are written as per their liking. If a show gets good ratings, it has managed to garner viewership. If the opposite happens, the audience does not like the plot line, so they try different tracks that will attract viewers. However, ratings don't measure the goodness of a show.
All shows start with a good story but not every show has proper execution. That show will work if there is a good show with good story and execution. However, every show loses track after a year, so they are shut down or butchered beyond repair.
There are four kinds of shows -
1) Small – These shows lack in execution and run for around 4-5 months.
2) Medium – These shows are well presented and have a majority online audience. They broadcast for around eight months to 1 year.
3) Large – These shows were good but now unnecessarily dragged because of satisfactory ratings. The duration is around 1 - 3 years.
4) Extra Large – These shows were good once upon a time, and now they have completely lost the point, running only because of the TRPs. The duration is more than three years.
I won't say all shows are bad. Recently, there have been good shows with new content and exciting plot. Some of them have been butchered, while others have a satisfying end. Most producers are coming with finite shows, which is excellent as they have a limited number of episodes and are ended appropriately. Finite shows are better as they have a vision and don't distract from their story. Shows like 'Reporters', 'Beyhadh', 'Dehleez', 'Ek Hasina Thi' had a finite number of episodes, and they stayed true to the story.
Non-finite shows also start pretty well, but when they don't get satisfying ratings, they add different plot lines that they think will fetch numbers but are far from enjoyable.
Common Story Pattern
You know it is a bad show that has been running for over three years.
The current plot does not relate to the main story. The only reason for the show to be running and getting viewership is the P3, i.e. People Pleasing Plot. These standard plot lines never fail to grab the viewer's attention. When a show is not working or not getting desired attention, the makers use these ready-made cliché storylines. That includes - time leap ( length of the jump depends on the condition of the show ), wedding track ( usually goes on for three months ), wedding track with couple swap ( gives room for experiment with the new love story ), new entry ( to add some spice in main lead's life ), memory loss track, separation track, entry of supernatural creatures, reincarnation track ( redesign show with same actors ), revamp ( redesign whole show with new actors, characters, story but with the same title).
The most common story pattern to salvage the show, after the base plot is a separation track followed by a small time leap, new entry in female lead's life, jealousy track, marriage track of the female lead with new entry, groom swap, love-hate relationship track, happy romantic track, new entry turning antagonist trying to separate the leads track, misunderstanding and sacrificing track, separation again, another time leap, independent female lead living with her daughter, male lead alone and depressed forced to get married to a new entry, main leads meeting, love-hate track again, male lead getting close to his daughter without realising its his daughter, refusing to get married to new entry, reunion, happy times, new entry turning antagonist, both main leads die, more significant time leap, their daughter all grown looking exactly like her mother, meets a new male lead, begins a love-hate relationship, new entry of antagonist's daughter who also loves male lead, just like her mother trying to separate new main leads, and it goes on.
And that's how you write a long-running TV show that will surely grab TRPs.
After watching numerous shows, most of which I left in mid, I realised that however, I try ignoring them, they will still attract me somehow. It is something I can't let go of, and I am not ashamed. I sure don't watch all the shows, I sure don't watch them regularly and religiously, I sure don't get involved much, I only watch for characters and sometimes actors, but I will keep watching in the hope that one day there will be a show which I can call the best Hindi TV serial.