This is a channel, which is crackling - crackling with electrifying programming. And if it does not regain its rightful place at the top of the viewership stakes, the blame will lie squarely at poor marketing and show packaging or at the door of the God of the television world - the viewer. No finger pointing at the viewership monitoring agencies should be resorted to as has been done earlier by the channel's new management. (A bad carpenter can blame his tools only so many times.)

Yes, the channel being talked about is Zee TV. A month into its new programming lineup, and it is looking good. Much better than what was expected. Hordes of viewers have not been swept away by it as yet; Star Plus is still the flavour of the year. But that does not mean it's going to stay that way for long. Zee TV in its current avatar looks set to give Star Plus programming head Sameer Nair and his team some headaches.

First let's get what's wrong with channel out of the way.

As mentioned earlier, the lack of finesse in interstitials for its shows. Zee TV's management has to invest in making it promos TV commercials. Better means better. No halfway measures will suffice. The sooner Zee TV chairman Subhash Chandra and broadcasting CEO Sandeep Goyal and his team work on this, the earlier will the positive results start showing up.

The second thing Zee TV needs to do is push each of its shows harder and treat each of them as a brand. Specific communication for at least a handful of the chosen ones, which appear to be potential winners, is what is called for. What is pitiable is that despite having highly rated professionals such as Sandeep Goyal and Partha Sinha, this is not being done. Instead, a frail girl 'Khushi' is being used as a mascot for all shows doggedly.

A lot of hype was created around the interactive show Aap jo bhole haan to haan, aap Jo bhole na to na It has turned out to be just hype. Trite storylines, trite plots, shoddy production values with no connection between the story and the sets and the props, a corny terrible can television programming get.

This is a show, which requires a lot of re-think. For starters, do Indian viewers really want interactivity? Do they want to actively take a moral position as do juries in US courts? Messrs Goyal and Zee TV marketing head Partha Sinha's claims about the zillions of phone calls they are getting for the show cut little ice; the duo is just resorting to a sales spiel to keep a dead horse running. Better still would be to bury AJBHTH,AJBNTN along with its host, the smooth talking ad agency man Suhel Seth.

Razzmatazz presents no quantum programming leap over the existing offerings Boogie Woogie, or Kya Musti Kya Dhum. The dancers are mediocre, the hosting kiddish, the camera seeks the judges and the sets more than the dancers. Clean up your act on this one, if you want to exploit the show's potential.

Now on to the good stuff that should keep Star Plus' programming executives awake. Shows such as Niilaam Ghar, Baazi Kiski, the Derek O'Brien hosted Bournvita Quiz Contest, Close Up Antakshari, the Ravi Rai produced Aaj Bhi Ateet, Sarhadein, Kohi Apna Sa come out tops. (As far as Dollar Bahu, Chotti Maa..ek anokhan bandan go, poor starts to these two shows have put off many viewers. A lot of work will be needed to undo the damage.)

On a Sunday morning, the line up of Close-up Antakshri, Baazi Kiski, Bournvita Quiz Contest totally annihilated the competition. KBC Jr and Amitabh Bachchan are no match for the flavour and passion that Anu Kapoor whips up amongst the kids taking part in the national challenge song competition.

The talent seems to be there aplenty. Close Up Antakshri is all about the great vocal chords that participating kids have, and not the anchor as is the case with KBC Jr, where AB Baby takes centre stage, participants are relative passengers.

Baazi Kiski with Ashutosh Rana came across as a pleasant surprise. Was this the same channel that produced the disastrous Sawaal Dus Crore Ka? Preparation can go a long way in creating a good product. And the efforts show in Baazi Kiski. The sets are pleasant to look at. Rana, oozing charisma, speaking in shudh Hindi is clearly a cut above Kher and Koirala, and his efforts at goading men against women and vice-versa in this battle of the sexes show, make for compulsive viewing. The fact that participants end up with money, cars, TV sets, as their winnings on answering quizzes, make it even more riveting.

Derek O'Brien, what can one say about the General knowledge evangelist. Bournvita Quiz Contest enthralled us on radio when we were kids. One could not miss the 1:45 or was it 2:00 PM Sunday appointment with Vividh Bharati and the host of the quiz then, Ameen Sayani.

One cannot afford to miss the television version either. The sets look snazzy, the promo is zippy, there's some hitech too in the form of a notebook computer that O'Brien keeps referring to. The show has a fast pace, O'Brien makes for a very affable and avuncular host. And the celebrity guests, well they play along with O'Brien and the participating students. BQC scores the highest marks. And it's a show that can only go one way - up.

Niilaam, bid boom. Chaos, confusion, sweat, teeming crowds, which are the characteristic of a World Wrestling Federation face off, are the signature of this show hosted by Shekhar Suman. Suman does a great job, a remarkable job in fact. Informality is key for Niilaam Ghar. While KBC is propah, suited and booted, with a clipped accent, Niilaam Ghar is about letting your hair down and being yourself, screeching and screaming to get Suman's attention as he stomps all over the place in his see-through T-shirts, worn to reveal his pectorals and biceps, popping questions which look easy as a daisy. Niilaam Ghar should be a winner in the heartland and with urban audiences too. The new series - Aaj Bhi Ateet, Sarhadein, Kohi Apna Sa - too are extremely promising and will build up audiences as time progresses.

This at a time when Kyuunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki seem to be tiring on Star Plus. KBC is continuing to hang in there despite a very perceptible limp. But thankfully for Star Plus new shows like Khulja Sim Sim, Shh.. Koi Hain, Kangan, Kalash, Kahin Kissi Roz are bubbling over. However, it cannot afford to ignore the looming threat from Zee TV.



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