As the number of privately owned general entertainment channels has increased, the content that they produce has increasingly become more commercialized. This has brought fundamental changes in the quality and the quantity of the content churned out from our television channels. Today, television channels are prioritizing revenue generation instead of impactful content. The rating system has exploited the creative talent involved in the making of a small-screen series such as writers, actors, and directors.
The impact of the rating system cannot be seen more clearly than in the problematic trend of extending shows to an exhaustingly large number of episodes. This trend has deteriorated the quality of the craft displayed on television on all fronts. Storylines are stretched, episodes are dragged, and frivolous sub-plots are added in order to expand the sequences. And the only motivation to do these things is purely capitalistic.
Becoming the norm
The trend of stretching dramas beyond the scope of its actual story is becoming the norm across all the channels. The recently concluded Danish Taimoor-Hiba Qureshi starrer Deewangi ended its successful run with 41 episodes on Geo TV. Because the show was doing well on the rating chart and trending every week on Youtube, it was extended by adding in many sub-plots and delaying the final resolution of the main conflict. The show did not strictly have any quality storytelling or an organically engaging plot but it got the numbers so that’s all that matters for the channel.
Similarly, the Imran Abbas-Sana Javed’s starrer Darr Khuda Se finished at 42 episodes. Just like Deewangi, the conscious efforts to stretch the story beyond its main theme could be clearly seen in the show’s lackluster second half. Again, it got the numbers so the original intent of the drama was forgotten by the makers. Imran Ashraf-Neelum Munir starrer Kahin Deep Jalay also received negative feedback for stretching the show to 34 episodes.
Things at Hum TV are not any different. Sanam Jung, Zahid Ahmed, and Affan Waheed starred Mein Na Janoo had failed to click with the audience from the show’s starting. And yet, the show ran for 37 episodes. Imran Abbas, Alizeh Shah, and Zarnish Khan starrer Jo Tu Chahay concluded with 41 episodes. The show was panned for having a lazy screenplay, exaggerated situations, and inconsistent storyline. But this clear lack of quality made it possible for the show to have a considerable quantity of episodes.
Sajal Aly and Ahad Raza Mir’s Yeh Dil Mera shone brightly in the rating radar but received flak for its slow-paced screenplay especially towards the concluding episodes. Fans filled the YouTube comment box with complaints of the story not moving forward at a steady pace. Considering the show was a suspense thriller, its success hinged on the fast pacing of the screenplay. However, to fulfill the demands of the channel that needed at least 30 episodes for the show, the quality of the screenplay was compromised.
ARY Digital has its own array of stretched out shows. Mera Dil Mera Dushman which initially aired once a week is now broadcasted thrice a week with its episodes nearing a 55 episode-run and still continuing. Thoda Sa Haq ran for 32 episodes despite having a story that could’ve neatly been concluded in 20-24 episodes. Sana Javed starrer Ruswai which was a story about the survivor of a gang rape ran for 29 episodes however, for many of those episodes the focus wasn’t even on the main character.
Zanjabeel Asim Shah who has recently churned out two television blockbusters, Cheekh and Pyar Kay Sadqay, was asked in an interview about her scripts being a victim of drag in the later stages despite starting out strongly with a crisp pace. She revealed that the channels pressurize the writers leaving them no choice but to drag the story in order to facilitate extra episode requirements. Channels negotiate with advertisers on a per-episode basis and even the drama producers are paid per episode hence, she had to succumb to the monetary functionality of the industry as Pakistan is a developing economy and lacks essential economic resources.
Mohsin Ali Shah, writer of the recently concluded ratings hit Ishqiya, candidly confessed in an interview that he as a writer is paid on a per-episode basis. Mohsin explained that a scene’s duration is increased by cinematic gimmicks like adding unnecessary reaction shots so all the drag that ends up happening on screen is not purely due to the writer’s ministrations. He elaborated that it is actually the commercial dynamics of a channel and the people involved behind the doors in the making of a drama who benefit by increasing the length of a script even if it compromises on its quality.
Reasons behind success
Pakistani dramas are celebrated for their simplistic storytelling with a finite number of episodes. This is the reason why Pakistani dramas became such a rage across the border as out dramas have proved how a complete story can be told in a limited number of episodes.
Some of the biggest television blockbusters of the last decade had a limited number of episodes. Fawad Khan-Sanam Saeed starrer Zindagi Gulzar Hai had 26 episodes, Humayun Saeed-Ayeza Khan starrer Marvel Mere Paas Tum Ho, which broke the rating records summed up its screenplay in 23 episodes. Farhan Saeed-Urwa Hocane’s social issue centric Udaari ended its run at a mere 25 episodes. Sarmad Khoosat’s directorial classic Humsafar headlined by Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan has its glorious run with 23 episodes.
Interestingly in the preceding decade of the 2000s, local dramas were crafted within 13-15 episodic-runs and still turned out to be money-spinners for the channel owners Be it the successful ensemble comedy Azar Ki Ayegi Baraat with 8 episodes, that kickstarted the whole Baraat franchise, or Humayun Saeed-Sanam Baloch starrer Doraha which left a solid impact and received critical acclaim within 14 episodes.
These record-breaking television series were gripping and tightly edited, which made them receive the acclaim that they did. The storyline didn’t feel dragged and the screenplays were not stretched in order to increase the episodic installments. There is a reason why Pakistani dramas were celebrated and its because they prioritized quality above everything else.
It is not like shows being extended because of their success is a new thing. Pyaray Afzal is a good example of a show that was extended to 37 episodes despite originally being planned for having some 20 odd episodes because of its success. But this happened for occasional dramas and it depended on their success. Unlike nowadays where dramas almost all dramas are targetted to have 28-35 episodes regardless of their screenplays not having enough quality to survive the stretch.
This problematic trend has been negatively affecting the drama industry in Pakistan and this has forced the majority of the A-list actors and technicians to switch to films or web-series as they are less time consuming to execute. Once a show is on-air, an actor is bound to wrap the shooting under certain deadlines, and hence when a show is extended suddenly it affects other projects of the creative talents involves, such as losing out on projects due to date issues.
If the brilliant minds and artists that elevated the status of Pakistani drama globally will continue to shift away from this medium, leaving it to people who only have their own vested commercial interests here, Pakistani drama will soon lose all of its good reputations. In the world that has all but shifted to digital platforms, there is no dearth of options for the viewers to consume their content from. The powers that be behind Pakistani dramas need to realize that in their desire for commercial gain by dragging the length of dramas, it is the quality of the drama that is suffering. And a low-quality product will never sustain over a long period of time.