Happy fam­i­lies

Soapie writ­ers have a lot to think about when it comes to bring­ing in new char­ac­ters.

TV Plus (South Africa) - - TRENDING -

New char­ac­ters are the lifeblood of soapies – they ex­pose un­ex­pected as­pects of ex­ist­ing char­ac­ters and al­low our lo­cal soapies to show­case dif­fer­ent cul­tures and lan­guages. They give us some­one new to watch and can even bal­ance out racial, so­cial and fi­nan­cial im­bal­ances that have de­vel­oped in shows. And above all, they pre­vent char­ac­ter fa­tigue. Af­ter a favourite char­ac­ter has been shot, ab­ducted, drug ad­dicted, un­der­gone re­li­gious con­ver­sion, cheated, had six chil­dren, eight wed­dings and been possessed by the devil, we do start to won­der how on Earth they can still be stand­ing. But there’s noth­ing quite as risky in a soapie as bring­ing in a new fam­ily and noth­ing more likely to make view­ers ask, “Who do you think you are? Get lost!” New char­ac­ters steal at­ten­tion from old favourites and if writ­ers get the bal­ance wrong, they can di­lute the “flavour” of the soapie. It takes a lot of thought to cre­ate the per­fect in­tro­duc­tion.

tvplus spoke to Isibaya’s (2013- cur­rent, see p10) ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer De­siree Mark­graaff, Scan­dal!’s (2005- cur­rent, see p20) cre­ative pro­ducer Grace Mahlaba, Isidingo’s (1998- cur­rent, see p24) se­nior head­writer Bongi Nd­aba, and Gen­er­a­tions (1994- cur­rent, see p13) pub­li­cist Gaaratwe Mokhethi and asked them to use a fam­ily they brought into the soapie in 2016 to show how much care­ful work goes into the process.


New fam­i­lies are some­times brought in to fill a gap that has opened in the sto­ry­line thanks to a pre­vi­ous fam­ily leav­ing the can­vas or a cast mem­ber need­ing to leave. The soapie’s loss can be its gain, not just with new sto­ries to tell, but with the op­por­tu­nity to snap up ex­cit­ing new cast mem­bers. “With the death of Chief Bhek­ifa Ngubane ( Vusi Kunene), a de­li­cious vil­lain, we felt the tim­ing was per­fect to re­fresh with an out­sider to Bhubesini as a new an­tag­o­nist to our taxi boss Mpiyakhe Zungu (Siyabonga Th­wala). Some­one who is just chas­ing the money and routes and doesn’t care about Zungu’s pre­cious lit­tle val­ley,” says De­siree. “We took about four months to cre­ate the fam­ily and story and when we re­alised that Menzi Ngubane might be avail­able, we knew he was per­fect for the char­ac­ter. In fact, many of the real taxi peo­ple we speak to for re­search have asked us over the years, ‘When are you bring­ing Menzi to Isibaya?’ So the tim­ing was great. We had fun au­di­tion­ing many fab­u­lous ac­tresses for his wife and were ex­cited to cast Thuli Tha­bethe. We knew al­most as we cre­ated the char­ac­ter of Qaphela that Ab­dul Khoza was who we wanted for the role – then we did a huge search for new tal­ent to find his daugh­ter Zama, played by Linda Mtoba.”


Bongi ex­plains that “peo­ple con­nect to Isidingo be­cause it’s got sto­ries about fam­i­lies. Peo­ple are not in­ter­ested in busi­ness. They’re in­ter­ested in fam­ily sto­ries, so you have to plan that it’s go­ing to hap­pen. In the char­ac­ter de­scrip­tions that we have, we have al­ready writ­ten those fam­ily things. They’re not on­screen yet, but you can do a story arc with them when you need to. If we had all the money in the world, ev­ery­body would have a fam­ily [on­screen],” she jokes.

And when a new char­ac­ter comes in, Isidingo’s writ­ers make sure to beef up the other sto­ry­lines to keep view­ers glued to the screen as they come in. “US soapies drag a lot; South African view­ers are dif­fer­ent – they don’t like sto­ries that drag. You have to have two sto­ries that are strong enough so that the new char­ac­ters that come in don’t over­whelm the show. You can’t just have a flood of new char­ac­ters, be­cause then the show be­comes di­luted, es­pe­cially for your loyal view­ers who’ve been watch­ing for­ever. They get thrown be­cause it seems like a new show, so you have to do it grad­u­ally. That’s when the plan­ning comes in.”

NB! Don’t miss the 15 March is­sue for part 2 of this story, on shelf from Fri­day 10 March!

It took Isibaya four months to de­velop Ju­das and his fam­ily – daugh­ter Zama, wife Beauty and son Qaphela.

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