'Lagaan', 'Achanak', new shows - SET gears for life after 'K3H'

MUMBAI: Sony is preparing for a life after the untimely but inevitable demise of the Madhuri Dixit-hosted flop marriage show Kahin Na Kahin Koi Hai (K3H).

As the UTV-produced show readies to die its natural death after a run of 44 episodes in the last week of October, the channel aims at a big splash distraction in the form of mega blockbuster Lagaan, scheduled for an airing on 27 October, a Sunday. The next day sees the revamp of thriller weekly Achanak 37 Saal Baad into a Monday to Thursday daily, slotted in the 10 pm band. Three to four other shows, the final tally is still being worked through, are expected to launch in the following week, which incidentally, leads into the Diwali (4 November) week.

But while most mainstream channels prefer to reserve the biggest blockbusters in their kitty for telecast on Diwali day, Sony has adopted an intriguing strategy - that of scheduling Lagaan a week earlier. There is an immediate advantage this offers though, and that is that there is no other worthwhile fare to compete for the advertising rupee so Sony can extract the maximum possible out of the big ticket movie.

Also, the week leading up to Diwali is when maximum purchasing takes place so that also might have been a factor in the decision. V-P,programming & production, Nachiket Pantvaidya points out the the film will have lesser number of ad breaks so as to provide advertisers with maximum value by reducing clutter. The film will have an uninterrupted run of an average 15 to 20 minutes before each break.

There is another departure from the norm (as far as Sony is concerned certainly). Unlike its usual ploy of airing hit films on Saturday nights, the Aamir Khan production will be aired on Sunday night. According to Pantvaidya, if Aamir agrees, some scenes which were edited out in the screen version will be reintroduced into the movie and what will be telecast will be an "uncut film". Pantvaidya said Lagaan , being a very long movie, would probably be slotted in at around 7 pm or thereabouts so as to conclude by midnight give or take some run time.

Pantvaidya also revealed that a major contest was being devised so as to generate further excitement around the movie.

Lagaan's Sunday slotting serves another purpose as well. The current series of the Balaji Telefilms big budget weekender Kya Haadsa Kya Haqeeqat, which airs Fridays through Sundays in the 8 to 9 pm slot, concludes on Saturday, 26 October. The new series, on which Balaji's creative force Ektaa Kapoor has spent a lot of energy to put together a powerful plotline, kicks off the following Friday.

The Lagaan airing will likely also be used to inform viewers about the new fare that the channel will have on offer. And there is a whole of that coming up.

Achanak, 37 Saal Baad, one of Sony's better performing shows from the current crop, seems to be burdened with the responsibility of holding the channel's 10 pm slot against rivals Star and Zee's soaps at the same time. Pantvaidya said there was no point in stacking a soap against a soap and the thought behind slotting Achanak in the 10 pm slot was to offer the viewer completely different fare. The viewership that would come in for Achanak were the type that had stayed loyal to the detective series CID, he said.

How well this strategy works remains to be seen, more so because for the initial six weeks, what will be on air are reruns of old episodes of Achanak . It will be December before the fresh fare begins its telecast, says Pantvaidya. The thinking here is that six weeks is what it will take for audiences who enjoy thriller formats to get properly clued in to the series and by the time the new episodes begin airing, a clear audience base will have been established.

Says Pantvaidya: "The focus of our November shows is counterprogramming. Between 8 and 10:30 pm we will have checkerboard stuff on air." All the new shows will be on between 8 to 9 pm while the two Balaji soaps Kkusum and Kutumb will undergo plotline "reinvention", the strategy that Star India is employing vis-a-vis its own hit soaps.

Looking at the 8 to 9 pm band, of the four shows Sony announced together, K3H - the most publicized one - has turned into its biggest disaster.

While the weekender Kya Haadsa Kya Haqeeqat has clawed its way up to averageratings after a miserable start, Bachke Rehnaa, the Mohnish Behl anchored game show modelled on the Columbia Tristar licensed Russian Roulette has still to take off and this may well be why there is still some debate going on within Sony over the fate of the fourth show that was announced at the time - Kucch Kehti Hai Yeh Dhun - to be hosted by Raageshwari. Kucch Kehti is modelled on Name That Tune. The brainstorming in Sony at the moment is also around another gameshow import Run For Your Money. Whether one, the other or neither see the light of day will be decided over the next 15 days or so, says Pantvaidya.

Sony's latest two offerings, Meri Biwi Wonderful (modelled on Bewitched), a sitcom on air at 8 pm on Thursday, and Devi , a soap slotted in at 9 pm on Friday, have both opened well, says Pantvaidya. Among the new shows that will be launching post-Lagaan are Papa Ban Gaya Hero, a sitcom that stars Vijay Raaz, the actor who portrayed the sensitive 'Dubeyji' in Monsoon Wedding, Goonj - a family story and Kabhi Biwi Kabhi Jasoos, a show about a housewife who moonlights as a private eye.

Papa..., the story of a middle class guy who hits the big time and all the difficulties he faces associated with coming to terms with it, is an out and out comedy. Khabhi Biwi is a one-hour thriller comedy and the lead has shades of the character played by Jamie Lee Curtis as the wife in Arnold Schwarzenegger's True Lies. The third show in this lot - Goonj - is a more sombre tale about the travails of a family where no male member survives above the age of 35, Pantvaidya confirms.

Looks like Sony has opted for the 8 to 9 pm slot to pack in its variety entertainment as opposed to Star which has slotted the 9 to 10 pm band for that.

"Ab Aayega Mazaa" (now the fun begins) is the new signature line for Sony Entertainment. And the channel is pulling out all stops to live up to it.

Come November, it will be over to the viewer.

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