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Could it be the loyalty factor that's working for them? Or is it the story, characters and generation leaps that's keeping viewers hooked on to these shows? "Loyalty factor is definitely one major reason," admits producer Sunjoy Wadhwa of Balika Vadhu. However, he says loyalty alone cannot keep a serial on for three years. "You have to tell an interesting story with new plotlines, characters or even generation leap to keep interest value alive," he adds. Producer Asit Modi of Taarak Mehta… says dailies primarily run on the strength of strong and relatable characters. "But characters alone are not enough. You have to constantly bring in interesting tracks to keep viewers hooked and maintain consistency in rating," he opines.
The inter-connection between viewers' interest and ratings has always been an obvious explanation behind every successful show's marathon run. But does anyone care for the story? "Yes, we do," asserts Wadhwa but admits that no show starts with a three or four-year story. "No show will run without a story. When you begin you always have a story that will last for at least a year or 300 episodes. But with success the main story plods along with parallel tracks, new characters and finally a fresh story within the main plot after the generation leap," he explains.
According to producer Pintoo Guha of Uttaran, constant reinvention without diverting from the main theme is another reason behind the marathon run of these shows. "They all have had a good story graph," he adds. In his opinion, TV thrives on journey of characters. "Uttaran is a story of two friends from childhood to motherhood which the audience has enjoyed watching because it is very relatable," says Guha. Admitting that rating is a benchmark of a show's popularity, producer Rajan Shahi of Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai says that in a highly competitive TV market, life of any serial is determined by numbers. "It's not easy to build a brand. Three years is an iconic landmark today. The fact that these shows are still on air while many have shut shop indicates that they are still getting consistent ratings," he elaborates.
Thanks to their loyal audience, commercial compulsions make channels keep them on air as long as they can. "Obviously business compulsion is helping these shows enjoy longer life," admits Guha, adding, "But what's also helping is the higher failure rate of new shows." Partly by default and partly by design, three years is a long, long time for any story to last. The important question is for how many years will this continue? "I really don't know. We are 800-episode-plus and I think it all depends on the story and how long we can justify the stretch," says Wadhwa. However, he doesn't see Balika Vadhu going off air before another year or more. "Our story is about the ill-effects of child marriage when the person grows up and his/her perception about a life partner changes. The second part of the story has just started and we still have a lot to tell. Obviously consistency in rating is helping us to tell the story in detail," he adds.
While Guha says Uttaran will last as long as audience watches it, Shahi says he still has a long story to tell. "Yeh Rishta... is about love and life after marriage. We have a beautiful story about adjustment and children and there is a long way to go because the story is about everyday life," he adds. Talking about Bidaai which was shut last year while it was still delivering 5 TVR, Shahi says it was a mutual decision between him and channel. "We wanted to keep the brand alive and create bigger interest for second season whenever it happens," he defends. According to Wadhwa, decision to shut a long-running show is taken only after proper market analysis. "A lot of factors are taken into account, including fatigue and viewers' readiness to welcome another show in the same slot," he informs.
If the channel feels confident that a new show will do equally good then it goes for the gamble. Star Plus took a gamble of retiring Bidaai. The show that replaced it was Wadhwa's Gulaal. But the gamble backfired. Star dropped and lost the slot to Pavitra Rishta. It is only now that Star has found another show in Diya Aur Baati Hum, which is performing much better than Gulaal and showing signs of further growth with 3-plus TVR. Today Star Plus is in much better shape with all of its 7 to 11 pm prime time shows delivering robust numbers ranging between 2.3 to 5.6. If Colors shuts Uttaran it will cost the channel at least 20 prime time GRPs. Likewise, Zee would lose around 15 to 20 GRPs at current 2.7 TVR for Pavitra Rishta and SAB would be a big loser without Taarak Mehta. That explains why most of these shows will be stretched inordinately. As Wadhwa says, "Overdependence is bad, but it's always a tough call to retire a TRP-happy show.l
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