Zee aims for the top with new programme line-up

The stage is set as Zee TV prepares for Act II of its play for the leadership position in the channel wars. CEO Sandeep Goyal has rolled up his sleeves, along with marketing head Partha Sinha, and is gearing up for a fierce round of fisticuffs. At stake is leadership of the Indian cable & satellite TV business, which has been with Star India's Star Plus for the past year.

It was on 5 March that Zee announced a new programming initiative that was to see the rollout of over 17 new programmes over the course of two months. The centrepiece of this initiative was the commissioning of India's first ever Reality TV show Prisoner of War.

There is no sign of POW yet but after brainstorming with producers and directors, the channel has meticulously worked on its programming strategy and plans to introduce a clutch of shows in the third week of August. Eleven new soaps and serials, including a new interactive serial, five other programmes which take an investigative look into the crime world, while some take the audience to Bollywood a day before a movie premieres, new episodes of popular series, and a re-telecast of older popular shows is what is on the menu.

7:30 PM TO 11:00 PM IS PRIME TIME: Goyal, who took charge on 16 May, has set himself a 100-day target to restage the channel and he is determined to stay to schedule. The shows on anvil are being packed into prime time between 7:30 PM and 11:00 PM

Deewane To Deewane Hai, produced by Raman "Tara" Kumar, will air from Monday to Wednesday, 7:30 PM The series is about a youth's journey from the U.K. to India and is woven around his passion for music. The UTV-produced youth oriented series Hip Hip Hurray will air at the same time Thursday - Friday. The 8:00 PM slot for the entire week will be taken up by Ek Tukda Hai Chaand Ka, a series produced by Tony and Diya Singh. It tracks a simple small town girl who follows her lover into the city but is ditched by him. She adapts to the social fabric of the city and herself becomes a glamorous and successful woman.

Two more weekly series Justjoo and Mujhi Dor Koi Khinche (8:30 PM on Tuesday and Fridays) will be slotted with popular weeklies Koshish Ek Asha, Amanat, and Mehendi Tere Naam Ki, which are aired during the rest of the week. Justjoo, produced by Ajai Sinha, is about a simple girl/women dedicated to her family and who is often the butt of family jokes. Her sister on the other hand is a working lady and is well informed. The wife to her chagrin discovers that her husband is more attentive to her sister.

Mujhi Dor Koi Khinche, produced by Jai Mehta, follows two sisters, one of whom is schizophrenic.

'CHHOTI MAA' VS 'KBC': And taking Star's Kaun Banega Crorepati head-on at 9:00 PM daily is UTV's Chhoti Maa - a Hindi remake of the numero uno Tamil mega serial Chiththi which has been getting consistent top ratings in the South on Sun TV. According ORG-INTAM data, Chiththi corners 27.7 TRPs in all C&S homes (25 June 2001- 1 July 2001). Whether the audience will prefer a daily soap opera about two look-alike women - one rearing a small child the other a career woman in the upper echelons of administration - over KBC is a moot point.

At 9:30 PM daily, viewers will have a chance to weep over another Balaji Telefilms production - Koi Apna Sa. The daily is an emotional saga about three friends who grow up together and get married into the same family. Their children get swapped at the time of delivery. And the series tracks their fortunes thereafter.

INTERACTIVE SHOW TO CHALLENGE 'KYUNKI...', 'KAHANI...': Zee TV's combatant for the Star Plus dominated 10-11 PM slot (Monday to Wednesday) is an hour-long interactive show Aap Jo Bole to Haan, Aap JO Bole to Naa. The channel is counting on this innovative fiction series that allows viewers to decide the climax/end of each episode by voting online and calling in live. The end that gets the majority of the votes will be selected as the final climax immediately.

The Thursday-Friday 10 PM slot will be occupied by Atith, a series revolving around reincarnation. Dollar Bahu which follows this series at 10:30 PM is penned by Sudha Murthy, wife of Infosys promoter NR Narayan Murthy. Dollar Bahu is the story of an Indian girl married in the U.S. who tries to balance the fast life there and her roots in India.

LATE NIGHT VIEWING: Zee TV is trying to extend viewing later into the night with Sarhadein which will air at 11 PM from Monday to Wednesday. It is a romantic saga of an Indian software engineer who falls head over heels for a Pakistani boy in Singapore.

Thursday's 11 PM slot is to be taken up by First Take, which will preview movies before they are theatrically released while India's notorious conmen will feature every Friday and Saturday at 11 PM in Shree 420.

SUNDAY SOAPS: Goyal and Sinha are hoping that soaps and series will work on Sundays too. Tracinema's Sansaar, (8 PM Sunday), is the story of a Punjabi family settled in London and their lives covering five continents (this was one of the serials announced in March). The Mission, a recreation of some of the proud moments of Indian armed forces, produced by Girish Mallick, is slated to air on Sunday at 10 PM

In the afternoon band the channel plans to showcase Zee Nostalgia - a repeat of top-notch prime time programmes. Gharana, a daily soap airs at 2:00 PM, which will be followed by a feature film every day at 2:30 PM

NEW LOGO: Goyal says that the channel is being given a fresh new look with a new logo, innovative packaging and a new voice over. "We will be back," he says. "Watch out for us. We will regain our no 1 status by the end of this year."

Are Sameer and Peter at Star TV tuned in?

Click here for details of the 17 serials announced in March

Zee TV readies to do battle with Star; and it is better armed now

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