‘Izingane Zesthembu’ creator Portia Hlubi sheds light on Mzansi’s reality TV landscape
Portia Hlubi is the founder of Milk & Honey TV, the company behind shows such as 'LaSizwe' and 'Celebrity Mystery Box'.
uThando Nesthembu creator Portia Hlubi. Picture: Supplied
Reality TV can be over the top, off-putting and simply unrealistic. But the genre is loved universally by a variety of people who are as different as the types of reality TV shows you would find.
“The reality TV genre is growing rapidly in this country,” reality TV producer Portia Hlubi tells The Citizen.
Television channels Moja Love and Mzansi Magic have been on air for less than 20 years and it’s hard to see how both channels would amass the viewership they have, had it not been for reality tv shows.
“I think we really are finding our voice and I wouldn’t want us to start trying new things when we’ve just loved ourselves on TV-seeing people that look like us, that sound like us. That’s what reality shows are supposed to do – to reflect society back to us and I think we’re doing that well,” said Hlubi.
Hlubi began her career as a Commissioning Editor but has built her reputation as one of the influential figures in the reality TV genre.
Hlubi who directed the second season of The Real Housewives of Johannesburg, co-created uThando Nesthembu’s fourth season and is the sole creator of Izingane Zesthembu and Ezomshado.
She is also behind LaSizwe and Celebrity Mystery Box.
South African palate
South African audiences seem to gravitate towards reality shows soaked in the topic of romantic relationships or those that speak to family dynamics.
The popularity of shows such as, The Ranakas and The Bala Family is a clear indication of this, while a program like Date My Family has found the winning recipe in how it is capturing people’s interest in romantic relationships.
“We are really authentic and honest people. One, no matter who you are and where you come from, there is some form of heartbreak that you will experience, or love or butterflies related to something romantic. So we can relate there,” Hlubi says.
“The most popular shows, are shows where the whole family can watch. Money-wise, it’s not every household that can afford to have five decoders [Extra View ]. So now we must sit in one lounge and enjoy one programme,” averred Hlubi.
The experienced television creator said she’s faced challenges even now when running her own company, Milk & Honey TV.
“When working on a show like Ezomshado, where you’re dealing with the lower LSM, we try [to] introduce black people to therapy and other ways of fixing a relationship and marital problems have been quite tricky,” she said.
The money part
Hlubi said the word lucrative would be too strong to describe the financial benefits of the reality tv industry.
“We, unfortunately, don’t have the big budgets, because reality tv show, I believe must be in context of the show” she said.
“Imagine we’re shooting a family from Nkandla who have a very interesting life on the farm and now we come with Shaka Ilembe budget, for me it doesn’t correspond,” says Hlubi.
She quickly averred that she isn’t insinuating that tv crews should be exploited, but says: “Lucrative is a stretch because we are depicting real life. Where maybe lucrative could be, is in your dramas and films because those are big productions.”
Spin-offs are quite popular in television and the reality tv genre has seen some successes in this regard.
The Mseleku family reality show, Uthando ne’Sthembu birthed a spin-off that is driven by Musa Mseleku’s offspring simply titled, Izingane zeS’thembu.
But the tv producer believes spin-offs are more popular abroad than they are in South Africa.
Hlubi says ensemble casts reality shows don’t perform well in South Africa, these are shows such as Housewives, where various individuals are put together to make the show.
“If one or two characters become very popular and then they do a spin-off, there’s a lot that goes into it. Were you popular because of your other cast members, now you go on your own, will you be as strong?” Hlubi said, asking about questions that are brought up when one wants to launch a spin-off.
“Remember, a reality show we must see family, love, pain, victories – so on your own, would you carry it?” Hlubi mentions Dineo’s Diary as an example. Dineo’s Diary first gripped viewers, before The Ranakas were launched.
“It was huge, it was popular. By the time we watch The Ranakas, we were already sold. I like spin-offs but I think be careful when you decide to go to a spin-off.”
Hlubi advocates the talent to benefit more from the reality tv show, but warns of the misconception around the money made in the genre.
“There’s no way you’re going to put your life out there, your victories, your pain and you don’t make money out of it,” she said.
“There’s not a lot of money to be made, but I definitely think talent must be paid accordingly.”