Near the end of 2013 it was announced that a deal had been struck between
Disney and Nigerian channel EbonyLife TV, to create an African take on the hit US
television show, Desperate Housewives, the award-winning drama series about
the lives, loves and misadventures of a group of American suburban women. The
CEO of EbonyLife TV, Mo Abudu, speaking at DISCOP Africa, said that the
decision to acquire the rights to the format came after the need was identified to
create strong alternatives to some of the channel’s acquired programming. “With
some of our acquired content, we’ve had to take it off the air because we’ve had
so much bad feedback about it. Our viewers do want to watch American shows
but they don’t want to watch them on EbonyLife TV.’
Based in Cross River State, Nigeria, EbonyLife TV is marketed as Africa’s first
global black multi-broadcast entertainment network and is dedicated to pan-
African content. “What people want to see on EbonyLife TV is the best of
homegrown entertainment,’ Abudu said.
But even in generating this local material, Abudu and her team reasoned, there
is no harm in acquiring an existing American format and tailoring it to the local
audience. Indeed, television history does feature a number of successful
precedents in this regard.
“What we are basically doing is taking that format and localising it,’ Abudu said.
“I was recently interviewed on BBC Radio and they asked me, “why Desperate
Housewives Africa? This is an American concept.’ And I said, “why not? Do you
not think that Africans have the same aspirations, the same obsessions and the
same passions?’ It’s important to start taking these formats because there’s no
point in reinventing the wheel. This is one of the most successful, top-selling,
award-winning series ever produced – let’s take it and make it our own.’
The deal with Disney was finally concluded near the end of 2013 and the
announcement was made with much fanfare at MIPCOM in October. In
November, EbonyLife TV put out a call for head writers, series writers and script
editors to get moving on generating storylines for the series. In January,
auditions were held. At the time of going to print, no announcements had been
made regarding casting decisions.
Although still in its early stages, this production is set to be a major event in
African television. It is also intended to be a prototype for what Abudu hopes will
be a sustainable production model. “This is where EbonyLife wants to play – in
the format business,’ she said. The channel’s aims with regard to these formats
is both to create original, homegrown adaptations of internationally tried and
tested formats, like Desperate Housewives, as well as to generate brand new
entertainment concepts that have the ability to be exported, not only to the rest
of Africa but also to the world.