New characters? Soapie writers must consider the three Cs: connections, culture & conflict.
It takes a lot of careful work to bring a new family into a soapie. tvplus spoke to Scandal!’s (2005- current, see p16) creative producer Grace Mahlaba, Isidingo’s (1998- current, see p24) senior headwriter Bongi Ndaba and Generations’ (1994- current, see p20) publicist Gaaratwe Mokhethi about more fascinating considerations that went into the process of introducing their new soapie families last year (see the 1 March issue for Part 1 of this story).
Bringing in a new family requires a strong connection with existing onscreen favourites – you can’t just crash the party. When Generations – The Legacy brought back major villain Jack Mabaso (Vusi Kunene), they not only dug him out of his grave, they pulled his family up with him and connected them with the Morokas. “We used the Moroka family, namely Karabo (Connie Ferguson) and Mazwi (Musa Ngema), since the gaps in their storyline made it easier to link them to the new family,” says Gaaratwe. Scandal!’s Grace adds, “The Thebes came in and the most important thing was to link them with the villain of the show, who was Lucas (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube) at that time. We heard there were drugs in prison being dealt by Neo (Jerry Mofokeng) and Lucas. Hector Thebe (Tumisho Masha) heard how his son died (of an overdose in prison) and found out that Lucas was a big player, so his mission was to go and take revenge for his son’s death. Then when Sello said he’s leaving, we had to think of what do we do. Where do we take the story? And we came up with the Langas. We have Siskeo Langa (Hlomla Dandala), who shares the same father as Hector, but they have different mothers, so already there’s a history before they even enter our world”
In foreign soapies, viewers basically have rich and poor people. South Africa’s soapie writers have so much more to play with. “We had a lot of followers who were Xhosa and they loved Thembeka, played by Masasa Mbangeni, so when she left we had to find some strong Xhosa actors,” says Grace. “We thought of bringing in Hlomla. You also need a villainess of the show, so we brought in Yvonne (Kgomotso Christopher). Yet we still needed to serve the Xhosa people, so we needed to find a wife for Siseko and we brought in Boniswa (Lusanda Mbane). There’s a perception that Xhosa women are loud or vulgar – you know how people stereotype other people, so it was important for us to bring in someone else like Boniswa, who’s a lady and a mother,” says Grace.
Gaaratwe adds that in Generations, “Jack’s family is strongly rooted in the Nguni culture and through them we are able to explore different issues Nguni people face. Plus, Jack Mabaso has always been an affluent guy and that’s where the royalty theme came in; his wife is of royal descent and so are his step- children.”
Finally, nothing expands and illustrates a character better than conflict and new families are perfect for bringing that out. Isidingo’s Bongi explains, “We look at a character and you ask: what is it that they represent? Angelique (Shannon Esra) is sophisticated, she is a lawyer, she’s well- educated, but you have to explain why the family hasn’t been around. Her family is ‘low grade’ and she doesn’t want to connect with them. They do things that she’s against. But when we bring them in, it’s something that she can’t avoid. Angelique’s dad Conrad (Deon Coetzee), her niece Daniella’s (Shamilla Miller) grandfather, turned Daniella into a drug mule. There is a moral dilemma she’s going to have – you can deal with a criminal who has no blood connection to you, but if the criminal is in the house, what do you do?” In our case as viewers, we sit back and enjoy the new-family fireworks!
Isidingo used conflict to introduce Angie’s dad Conrad and jailbird niece Daniella.