Would a 12-episode serial like that of 24: Live Another Day work for Telugu audience?

Jack Bauer is back on the small screen with a vengeance. The anti-terrorism agent of popular series 24 returns after four years in exile in the series 24: Live Another Day on AXN. The popular thriller (also remade in Hindi with the same name and Anil Kapoor essaying Jack’s role) saw Jack racing against a ticking clock to protect America from terrorists. In 24 Live Another Day, the thrill promises to get intense and bigger as the weeks go by and the story will be told in just 12 episodes! The network believes, ‘the limited-run series is better tailored for today’s changed viewing habits.’ This shortened series has paved the way for a new trend on the small screen. But can Telugu serial makers try to emulate this 12-episode per series formula?

“Telugu viewers have different tastes,” states director Anil Kumar. His game show Modern Mahalakshmi will be ending in June and the director says it is a small break before he calls the shots with a new comedy-based mimicry show. “Our serials are targeted at 35+ women and it takes at least five weeks for them to get accustomed to a new serial. The story has to be woven around many elements so that they watch it regularly,” he says.

Most Telugu serials follow a similar pattern these days. It is a woman-centric story interspersed with love, struggle and revenge. The serial revolves around not one but a few protagonists, their families and their lives, all narrated with twists and turns. A few lame characters with no connection to the real story are also thrown in and the resultant storyline stretches for weeks, months and even years.

“A serial is not like a movie that gets over in 2 and a 1/2 hours,” remarks Chandrasekhar, who worked as a creative head of fiction for Zee Telugu for three years. He says the trend continues as people are watching these serials. “If were not watching, these serials will not have got such TRPs,” he retorts and adds, “Recently I watched a serial which dedicated 10 episodes for a young girl’s function. It was not necessary to drag it like that.”

Chandrasekhar says the storyline showcases the importance of relationships in our lives. “If you look at any Telugu serial, the foundation is based on bonding. We Indians love our family and our relationships but we also have a nosy attitude and are curious to know about our neighbours’ affairs. Our Indian serials are based on such family drama and sentiments,” he explains.

Considered a spontaneous and witty host, Suma began her stint when television was at its nascent stage. “Initially serials on Doordarshan were restricted to 13 episodes per series; then they got extended to 26 and later to thousands,” she recalls with a laugh.

“When the episodes were less it was nice; we knew where, when and what was happening. We also looked forward to the ending like we do in a film. But with daily serials, the story needs to be shaped according to the TRP graph. So even the director or writer doesn’t know what is going to happen. I feel things should be short and smart, so that audience gets a variety to watch,” she adds.

While joking that ‘short is creativity and long is elasticity,’ Suma admits these long running tearjerkers provide employment to the cast and crew. “Actors and technicians survive on these serials as it is like a regular job. Once a serial clicks, it goes on for at least three years and they will have a standard income. But if the serial is short, many people may lose the benefits.”

She sounds optimistic though and says the short series trend has caught on in the North. “Big Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi and Anil Kapoor’s 24 were all short,” she gives examples. Telugu TV is not headed that way as yet.