53 Extra: Imitation Fails to Flatter

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It is rather odd that DStv can decimate what was initially a continental show into a showbiz PR piece for one country. Studio 53 started off as a showcase of the positive attributes of the African continent beyond the stereotypical clichés of poverty, ignorance and disease. The show, which has since morphed into 53 Extra, now aggressively pushes DStv’s “Naija-cked” agenda where Nigerian cultural imperialism is being pushed down the throats of the rest of the continent.

A recent episode featured 2Face Idibia’s birthday- his musical compatriots P-Square fawning all over the birthday boy, equating him to an African Michael Jackson. It was probably the birthday party liquor talking, Hennessy perhaps which was the focus of the second insert, an all star music video the title sponsors of 53 Extra were bankrolling. Then it was on to putting faces to popular Nigerian radio voices (like the rest of the continent cares about radio talent that lacks the broadcast reach of say BBC, VOA or RFI). The finale was a bland interview about a continentally obscure music mogul Eldee a.k.a. The Don, who would like to extend his production hand by doing “collaboz” with artistes from Uganda.

Only the insert about the launch of Fashion TV Africa had a semblance of a pan-African angle although the possibility of African models and fashion designers showcasing in New York, Paris, Milan, London and Tokyo was not well articulated with show host Dolapo Eni choosing to focus her interview on the couple that runs the Nigerian fashion house Couture Africa. It is a sad commentary on a show that emerged as an offshoot of 2003’s revolutionary Big Brother Africa I in which a team of able TV personalities offered fringe viewing by taking us into the respective countries of the 12 housemates that had been confined to a hedonistic human zoo experience for 106 days. A brainwave hit the “creatives” at DStv and an idea for a continental lifestyle and travel show was birthed. A continental competition to search for a name yielded Studio 53, the digits being the number of African countries at the time before Southern Sudan increased it to 54.

Studio 53’s 2004 debut had former TV Africa Alice Chavundika news anchor as its first presenter. Generations’ Rosie Motene replaced her following a freak motor accident. Our own Gaetano Kaggwa joined Motene as co-host of the then 30-minute show in an on-screen chemistry in which they connected with field presenters that criss-crossed the continent seeking out travel hotspots, palate-teasing cuisine, haute couture, over-achieving Africans and folks that has made a life of themselves in the Diaspora. Those 300 episodes shot over five years continue to rank amongst the gold standard of great television, the continental armchair joyride they provided notwithstanding.

As subscribers whose stake in Africa’s premier pay-TV company is the fact that we pay top-dollar for more than just a crisp satellite digital signal (if only our screens didn’t post an error message every time it rained) and mp3-quality audio every month, it is time to demand for our pound of quid-pro-quo flesh. Nigeria may be a cash cow with 150-million reasons for DStv to suck up to them by way of all manner of tailor-made programming a la Naija Sings, Moments With Mo, Tinsel, Nigezie. But it is just one piece of the 54 African-nation pie despite holding a sixth of the continent’s billion-strong population. Studio 53 should be a CSR token from DStv to the rest of the continent. There is so much in a name for 53 Extra to continue masquerading as  a side-bar to the original. Not that it would smell sweeter if it were say Studio Naija/Nigezie/whatever.

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