Zee English looking to innovate through unusual programming

MUMBAI: A darkly funny drama involving death! A gay man and a straight woman whose relationship constantly blows hot and cold! Sex and married life from the male perspective! These are a few of the unusual programme initiatives that Zee English will unveil over the next few months.

Addressing a press briefing this afternoon, business head Zee English Ajay Trigunayat said that the channel would be launching two new shows on 20 January. Will & Grace will air at 10:30 pm followed by The Mind of the Married Man at 11 pm every Monday. In April the channel will start airing HBO's Six Feet Under and MGM's She Spies.

Trigunayat said: "The channel was conceived with the aim of being the ideal window to the west. We are constantly looking to balance mass and superlative programmes. Of course a programme like Friends crosses that line. We are aiming to reinforce the platform through finest comedy in the form of Will & Grace and finest drama in the form of Six Feet Under.

The Mind of the Married Man is in keeping with our oven fresh approach. In America it has completed just 20 episodes. She Spies and Hidden Hills, which we will kick off in May are still in their first season in the US. We are also aiming to reduce the gestation period between the telecast dates in the US and India."

What gives a new spin to Will & Grace from the NBC stable is that Will played by Eric McCormack is a gay lawyer who came out of the closet in 1985. He is having an emotional relationship with Debra Messing who plays Grace an interior designer who is straight as an arrow. "It deals with imperfect companionship which is valid in this day and age. It gives audiences a break from the relentless fare of women oriented sitcoms and soaps," Trigunayat says. The sitcom has been recognised as a powerful antidote to homophobia. This year the show earned 13 Emmy nominations. It combines the perkiness of Friends with the urbane wit of Seinfeld.

The Mind of the Married Man takes a funny look at the challenges of a modern day marriage from a male perspective. How three married men survive in marriage forms the core of the story. The show stars Mike Binder, M Emmet Walsh, Brigitte Bako.

As for the other programme initiatives are concerned Trigunayat said, "Six Feet Under has plenty of dark situational humour. We had booked the property a while back but were initially hesitant about bringing it into the Indian market. However we are confident that while some people will be turned off others will gradually get hooked into it. It fits in with our aim to offer viewers superlative programmes and not just shows that appeal to a general audience. The show will air once a week and we will have a trial period of six-seven episodes. This will give us an idea as to the kind of feedback the show is receiving."

The show has been written by Alan Ball who won an Oscar three years ago for writing the screenplay of American Beauty. It takes a look at a dysfunctional family who own and operate an independent funeral home. The patriarch Nathaniel Fisher passes away as the show opens. Much like the Oscar winning film what emerges in the show which stars Australian actress Rachel Griffiths is a quirky and at times even disturbing portrait of a resilient American family.

Also present at the briefing was Cutting Edge Media's Rohinton Malloo who said that the channel had managed to pull off a coup. He hinted that HBO (India) may not be aware that Zee English would air its show Six Feet Under. He also said that the channel was using the Internet as a way to spread awareness. Sponsors roped in for the two shows in January include Telco and ITC Foods.

Trigunayat continued elaborating on the programming strategy thus, "She Spies is a blend of masala and action. Since it comes from MGM the company responsible for James Bond one can expect a lot of dry martini wit. It is a spoof on the spy genre and is therefore not merely run of the mill action fare. It stars Natasha Hensridge of Species fame." At the start of the show the three women are criminals. They then work for the FBI which had put them behind bars. 'Bad girls gone good' is theme of this babelicious fare.

" We will continue to build on our existing fare. Seinfeld is currently in its last season. Next month as a tribute we will air The Best of Seinfeld which will be a collection of the most memorable episodes. The third season of The Soprano's and the second season of The West Wing will air from April." Trigunayat said.

On the viewership front Trigunayat said that the channel reaches 45 million people. Besides SEC A A lot of SEC B has started tuning in. Cadbury's had run a campaign for 'Temptations' of unique content channels and the good offtake received would not have been possible without SEC B tuning in.

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