Remember STN. If you were born in the late 70s and the early 80s in Pakistan, quite preferably within any of the provincial capitals of the time, it’s highly probable that you have heard of the Shalimar Television Network (STN). It later came to be known as Shalimar Recording and Broadcasting Company (SRBC) when the company launched the first private television channel in Pakistan called the Network Television Marketing (NTM) channel.
Pakistan Television’s (PTV) monopoly was truly tested by this little gem of a network television channel. The channel introduced amazing drama serials like Chand Grahan, Dasht, Kashkol, Sitara aur Mehr-un-Nisa and sitcoms like Nadan Nadia. Way ahead of its time, this Pakistani channel not only rivalled the national television broadcaster but also helped to spread the influence of Pakistani television across to bordering India. Anyway, those were the days when the Indian public would give Doordarshan a rest on their tellies and tune into what Pakistan had to offer.
And boy, did Pakistan (with both the national broadcaster PTV and NTM/STN) ever make up for in terms of innovation. Back-to-back gripping Urdu drama serials, first-of-their-kind pop music chart shows like the Music Channel Charts (MCC) and the fresh offering of American and British television shows (e.g., Saint, A-Team and Mission Impossible) helped with the late-night ratings and viewership as well. Television may not have had quantity back then, it definitely had quality.
The Quality-Quantity Debate
Private television channels were some of the hardest ventures back in the day. Soon enough, under the Musharraf administration when the government provided true leeway for private television sector to grow, it grew beyond expectation. Where television offerings gained in number over the years, they massively reduced in quality and awesomeness. Gone were the days of Ainak Wala Jin, Dhoop Kinare, Fifty-fifty and Alpha Bravo Charlie.
With so many channels to choose from today, consumer choice has saturated enough to favour two distinct gender-based flavours of the nation’s prime-time viewerships: for men, it’s the raucous and noisy talk shows on news channels; for women, it’s the saas-bahu soaps on Indian channels. The day isn’t far off when women would go epileptic from the crazy camera pans and zooms on Indian soaps, and the men deaf by the noise an average politician makes when on the telly. Let’s just safely assume there isn’t enough quality on screen these days.
Know When to Change the Channel
Television show producers have this snazzy way of knowing when people tune in to watch their shows – they call it ratings or TRP. It shouldn’t matter much to anyone but the only reason bad television shows exist is because of these ratings. Believe me, just by tuning into a television programme that you hate, you give it enough legitimacy to stay put on the screen. My suggestion is pretty simple.
Do not tune into prime time talk shows. Unless your life really does depend on the issues being discussed in these talks shows, missing one wouldn’t have you lose up on much. They just repeat everything that happened on that particular day (adding only noise and raucous to the mix). Change the channel if need be.
Don’t worry, there are enough websites online where you can catch up on the latest shows. You can probably catch up on the latest News Night with Talat on Saach or others on ZemTV. Watching these shows online would not add towards the ratings of these shows and perhaps with the lack of advertising interest, these television talk shows might just produce better content.
Know Bullshit from Fact
When was the last time, you actually saw a really good documentary on any of the channels that you regularly watch. When I say documentary, I don’t mean the crappy kind where underpaid actors perform a shoddy re-enactment of a scene of a certain irrelevant social injustice. We see enough bullshit in a day to know that these stories are absolutely fake and baseless. The kinds of documentaries I talk about here are ones that celebrate fact and not fiction – the kinds that present facts in the light of scientific and analytical perspectives and not the ones that talk about myths and superstitions.
|Superstition or fact: Would you rather watch a fake pir claim to be a practitioner of black magic (top) or watch stuff that actually enlightens you (below)? Our media is only dumbing us down.|
Learn from the Neo-British Invasion of America
1960s and the 70s were the golden age of British television – what with the best science-fiction offerings like Doctor Who, Thunderbirds and the Avengers. The influence would gradually fade into the hullabaloo around the mainstream American drama, but some of these early pioneering shows have made a dramatic comeback over the years. Not only have the recent revivals of shows like Doctor Who brought back an appeal for intelligent science-fiction shows but these appear to be taking over American audiences once again.
|The old and the new: Doctor Who in the 60s (top) and the re-imagining of the series (bottom) for a modern time and audience. Just the hype of a remake made viewership reach magnanimous numbers.|
If there’d ever been one show in Pakistan that could generate the same amount of buzz and excitement in young Pakistani children today as it did back in its heyday, it’s Ainak Wala Jin. Envisioning a better version of the original with better graphics and wittier story lines could definitely put the younger demographics in front of the screen.
Let’s Put the Science in Science Fiction
Audiences today, anywhere in the world, crave for stuff on television that could remind them less of the world around them and teach them something in return as well. Instead of focusing on paranormal and the absurd, Pakistani television should work towards including factual and scientific explorations into shows. Even including a bit of science fiction into the mix could actually instil a sense of curiosity and desire to achieve in young viewers.
It’s a shame that Pakistan failed to capitalise on its sci-fi exploits – after all, Pakistan was the first South Asian nation to experiment with science fiction in one of Pakistan cinema’s cult classic, Shani. In a random discussion about old Pakistani shows, a few of my friends suggested a sci-fi remake of Ainak Wala Jin, a rethinking of the original show to depict Jinns (Urdu for genies) to be an invisible and omnipresent force of nature that use hi-tech equipment to create portals in and out of their world and ours. Let’s just take out the mythical stuff from Ainak Wala Jin and make it into a sci-fi show where science makes stuff possible.
Flood Saeed Rizvi with Letters of Support
If there’s one thing that we all can do, it’s to flood poor old Saeed Rizvi with millions of letters of support. Rizvi directed some of Pakistan cinemas endearing science fiction films including Shanni, Tilismi Jazeera (The Enchanted Island) and Sar Kata Insaan (The Headless Man). He fought against the extremist ideals of General Zia-ul-Haq to make film censors and content more accessible to a mass market. If there’s one person who can really bring back sci-fi to tellies in Pakistan, it’s Saeed Rizvi – get a hold of his email or home address and please, just please, flood him with letters of respect and support. Let’s get him working again.
If you are like me and think that television could really do with a makeover, leave your suggestion as a comment. Let’s make our voices heard.