METRO PLUS

Action, their buzzword

BIG RED and black billboards at strategically-located street corners have been proclaiming "Saddam had 48 hours; Jack Bauer has just 24" for the past few weeks in the run-up to AXN's new primetime programming. Apart from a whole new line-up — "24", "Crime Scene Investigation" and new seasons of "Andromeda", "Relic Hunter" and Pacific Blue" — the channel's moved its 8 p.m. Prime Zone down to 10 p.m. from this month. "That's when most of our viewers tune in," explains Todd Miller, Managing Director, AXN Asia. AXN will be screening a different action series every day of the week on its Prime Zone slot at 10 p.m. and movies on weekends. "Surveys have shown that our audiences want it that way. We're trying to make AXN more relevant to the viewer's lifestyle and TV habits."

AXN went on air in India in 1998 and reaches almost 22 million homes in India. Their core programming is action-based movies, series and reality shows. "We air programmes that are current, topical, award-winning and with aspirational values to suit the mindset of the AXN viewer — the `attitudinally twenty-somethings'. That doesn't mean our viewers are all twenty something. We have a viewer base spanning all ages and 45 per cent are female. They're people who want something exciting, escapist and exhilarating — people who `need that buzz'," says Miller.

And to keep the buzz-seekers on a perennial high are the new scripted adventure series that went on air last week. "24" covers a 24-hour period in the life of a counter terrorism agent — a senator is about to be assassinated, his daughter has been kidnapped and there's a mole in his agency. "It's the longest day of his life, and each episode is one hour of that day being told in real time," says Miller. The show has scooped up a load of awards in the U.S. And in "Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)", also a multi-award-winning show, anything from an unusually laced shoe to fingerprints on the weapon are clues for the team of forensic investigators. "All these shows are slick, fast, educative and a real powerhouse of action."

The reality shows — X Zone — continue at 9 p.m., but with new series. "Reality has been a big hit in India. The hit shows here are different from the kind of reality shows that made headlines in the US. Here relationship-based reality is not very popular. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things and finding themselves in extraordinary situations is what gets people," explains Miller.

And that's what made "Who Dares Wins" such a big hit in India. The channel even shot an entire special in India but many viewers found the dares rather tame compared to the usual ones on the show. "We had been told Indians are very conservative and were not sure about people's response. But we were pleasantly surprised by the response. But the final dares that were performed in Australia were every bit as daring and demanding, if not more, than the usual."

Action, their buzzword

Although there are plans for more such initiatives in India, AXN does not plan to base a scripted adventure series, along the lines of "Relic Hunter" or "CSI", in India. "It is very hard to produce scripted entertainment well and it's even harder to maintain that kind of production outside of the U.S. Besides, action shows are escapist and thrilling — it something exciting that's happening somewhere else. If it's shot in a familiar environment it might just lose some of those qualities," he explains.

Todd Miller's been coming to India since 1989 and says that it's amazing to see how much the country has opened up over the years. "Ten years ago cable TV was infantile. The Gulf War brought cable into people's homes and there was just this one channel — Star Plus," says Miller, who worked with Star TV in the early days of its launch. "Everybody was watching the Bold and the Beautiful. You couldn't get people away from their TVs between eight and eight thirty in the evening. The Bold and the Beautiful was a failed show in the West, but a raging hit here. So it's great to see that TV and audiences have evolved so much that you have a show like CSI running in India at the same time as it is in the US. The viewer is travelling abroad, keeping up with all the trends and that's true of TV show trends as well."

And the man who gives couch potatoes their daily buzz, gets his own share of travelling. "I'm all over South-East Asia meeting different kinds of people — staff, cable operators, channel heads... and you learn so much from each of them. It's a great experience. But the downside to the job is also all the travelling. It can get rather tiring," he says laughing.

When he's not travelling he spends time biking, running and wakeboarding. "I don't think wake boarding has taken off in India as yet. It's a lot like snowboarding, but on the water. There's a board about four feet wide, with foot straps. You strap it on and are towed by a boat, and do all kinds of stunts in the strip of water left behind by the boat (the wake). It's absolutely brilliant, gives you that `buzz'," explains Miller. He agrees that his hobbies have helped his job indirectly. "I understand `that buzz' and it definitely helps to know what kind of programming will satisfy a viewer who `needs that buzz'."

Miller also gets his buzz from shooting pictures. "I love photography, especially people photography. And my job has given me a chance to travel and photograph. You can capture so much — emotions, passions, sentiments, attitudes — on people's faces. In another life perhaps, I'll be a photographer — definitely not in this life, because I simply love my job, but maybe in another life."

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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