10 ways to put on a good TV show

Published: May 5, 2012

Do men really have to be portrayed as either tyrannous cheats, rapists or hen-pecked husbands all the time? PHOTO: PUBLICITY

Switching on the television these days is anything but uplifting. For one, you get transported back to an endless cycle of births, shaadis (marriages) and deaths. 

Is this all that our audience is interested in? Are we really that laid-back about the content being aired? Do we actually take our masses to be that silly?

These are the same masses that watched “Ankahi” and “Tanhaiyan” and enabled these shows to get the critical acclaim they deserved. Why are we then so afraid to experiment with new themes and plots? Times are changing and people are evolving rapidly. But what about our dramas? Most are still stuck in a rut.

In order to help them break the monotony, here is me annoyingly listing ten points that I think every show in our country could do well to follow:

1. The names that get you fame

One of the first things that builds interest for a television show, apart from the number of forlorn faces staring back at you from the billboard, is its name. The title of the show has to be in line with the narrative and should, perhaps, even be witty, but it certainly should not be an entire sentence.

You clearly don’t want to be found saying “Main Abdul Qadir Hoon” and “Meri Zaat Zarra-e-Benishan” when asked about your favourite dramas.

2.  Keep the tears in check

Let’s face it; nobody appreciates wailing mothers and suicidal wives on their television screens (unless they are really sadistic). This is mainly because the infamous prime time has already reserved for the audience the choicest of distressing visuals, limbs and all. So keep the content in the forefront, the emotions on the side and get the cast of “Mujhay Roothnay Na Dena” some tissues.

3. Show stereotypes the door

Yes, at some point in time you might want to give your villain a stubby nose and characterise him just the way you remember your school bully. A girl doesn’t have to be drowning in make-up and jewellery to come across as villainous. After all, the last thing our society needs is a “if you’re well groomed, you’re a villain” message like the one portrayed in “Humsafar”. So repeat this to yourself:

I shall leave yoga and other exercises out of my portrayal of the evil character, especially if I want to kill her towards the end.

4. Leave the moral lessons for the story books

No, there’s no harm in leaving an underlying message in your work of art. In fact the more “underlying” it is, the better. You don’t have to have a bearded man on a walking stick telling his children to “do good and stay away from evil”. Creating smart situations that reinforce the message instead of spelling it out for the audience actually works like a charm.

5. Leave the formulas for the pancakes

One of the television producers I talked to recently spoke about how every story just revolves around five themes as a rule – relationships, character, love, hate and revenge. However, showing hate doesn’t have to revolve around mean and elaborate plans on the part of the widowed and “forever alone” characters that have nothing better than to hatch evil designs on somebody’s lamb of a wife. Also, when you’re called Mere Qatil Mere Dildar” it doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.

6. Know your target audience, but don’t alienate everyone else

We all know how Pakistani television shows are all set to target the female audiences by loosely bringing in terms like “social issues” and “feminism” to the forefront. But how effective is your process of bringing social change if your content actually alienates half of your population – the men. Do men really have to be portrayed as either tyrannous cheats (“Mera Saeein”), rapists or hen-pecked husbands (“Bulbulay”all the time?

7. Skip the drag

We all know how long concluding messages can now be said in a matter of three alphabets (BRB, if you must know). So, there’s no point in dragging conversations in your very long television shows (commercial breaks, included).

However, give as much time to the conclusion as to the premise of a show. Just letting the husband and wife dance in the rain at the end of the show does not constitute a suitable conclusion.

8. Add more bricks

Everyone is not interested in the mindless glitz and glamour. At the end of the day, most would appreciate a meaningful, yet entertaining experience in the drama they watch. Claiming that the target audience of your shows are the “illiterate masses” is not a good enough excuse to add distressing monologues and haunting close ups without offering substance or “food for thought”. One good idea would be to leave things open to interpretation so that the content becomes more thought provoking than puke inducing.

9. Do away with the jingle of predictability

Music should be used to accentuate the feel of a show and not to give away the plot. If you use long and orchestral background scores, the audiences will know of the impending death of a character. Build curiosity, don’t kill it. In fact, if you have already surpassed the 200 episode mark, don’t bother. Chances are that the audience is already sleeping through “Yeh Zindagi Hai”.

10. Pay your writers: 

Yes, I think that will actually make a huge difference.

Read more by Riffat here, or follow her on Twitter @RiffyR


Riffat Rashid

Riffat Rashid

The author is currently a Media Science student at SZABIST. A literature, food and art enthusiast. She tweets here twitter.com/RiffyR

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rehanwajahat S.M.Rehan Wajahat

    Nice to read the views. People will get bored very near and that will raise Pakistani drama again. I take this phase as revival phase as Pakistan’s indian inspired drama is getting back to it’s own track.Recommend

  • aliza awais

    Pakistani Television Industry has really Flourished well,Proud of it…Recommend

  • Err

    @Author: Just checked….you are studying Media Science! Oh Crap! What’s with the world!Recommend

  • http://thedabbabrigade.wordpress.com RiffyR

    @Err: The world is figuring things out.Recommend

  • Anam

    good one! i agree with most of your points.Recommend

  • asma

    very good! Media science students can really bring a change in the concepts which can change our society. Recommend

  • Kay-Lid

    Friend 1 : Whats the name of your favorite Drama?

    Friend 2 : Mein Abdul Qadir hun.

    Friend 1 : Okay, but what’s the name of your favorite drama! :P

    sorry, TSM is hacked..can’t post it there :PRecommend

  • Hafsa

    I totally agree with point number 9! But come on! you can atleast try to appericiate the emerging industry! i would suggest that you should go and watch some recent fine dramas like malaal,daam and dastaan and then write another blog! :) Recommend

  • http://thedabbabrigade.wordpress.com RiffyR

    Hafsa, I’m not saying what we have sucks but these are just some things that if taken care of, can make our dramas more thought-provoking and entertaining :).Recommend

  • Xara

    Pointless. It seems u r just here to criticise. You talked about five themes ‘One of the television producers I talked to recently spoke about how every story just revolves around five themes as a rule – relationships, character, love, hate and revenge.’ In fact these five themes cover a major part of real-life. So making dramas based on these themes will cover a lot of real -life stories.Recommend

  • Wudood mian

    Well ‘Qudusi sahab ki bewah’ is currently the best dramedy on tv. Its script is Arguably unique and the portrayal of 5 characters by ‘Hina Dilpazeer’ is just awesome. Had Hina been in Hollywood, she would have won multiple Oscars by now !!!Recommend

  • http://thedabbabrigade.wordpress.com RiffyR

    @Xara: the five themes do concern real life but the PORTRAYAL of those themes is stereotypical. Infact, it’s predictable. I study at a university and most of the people I know don’t relate to the “youth” shown in the dramas. They are not always worrying about getting rishtas or about being accepted by a certain faction of our society. In fact, most of the people I know are trying to break away from the rut of relationships, love, hate and revenge. What about things like experimenting, taking on risks and challenges, finding out who you are as a person, getting out of your comfort zone. Are these things ever given airtime? Not in the dramas I have come across locally.

    Also, you have to admit all of our shows are extremely depressing and one person or the other is almost always close to tears. As far I know, it sends anything but a motivating message to the “women” of Pakistan who the dramas proudly claim to be for.Recommend