By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, Feb 5 (IANS) Can you imagine "Kaun Banega Crorepati" without mega star Amitabh Bachchan? Or "Indian Idol" without composer Anu Malik? In a celebrity-obsessed nation, even reality shows that aim to make a star out of the common man are driven by Bollywood faces.
"Whatever happens, reality shows will always need some face value - whether in the form of celebrity contestants, judges or hosts," Namit Sharma, head of Wizcraft Television, told IANS.
Not even a single ongoing reality show - "Zor Ka Jhatka", "Chak Dhoom Dhoom - Team Challenge", "Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa", "Dance India Dance Doubles" and "Maa Exchange" among others - is without a celebrity.
"These shows are big ticket properties that have to deliver ratings and for that they have to attract a big audience, so we need celebrity faces for that. Even if the success or failure of the shows ultimately depends on the content, a celebrity face is needed to front a reality show - it could be Pravesh Rana or Amitabh Bachchan...and that's the range!!!" Sharma explained.
Amitabh kicked off the trend with STAR Plus' "Kaun Banega Crorepati" in 2000. Since then, though reality show formats have primarily involved the general public, big names from showbiz have never been absent.
Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Salman Khan, Shilpa Shetty, Mithun Chakraborty, Madhuri Dixit, Priyanka Chopra and the likes have already had their stint with TV, while Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Dutt are lined up to make their debut soon.
In fact, celebrities like Farah Khan, Malaika Arora Khan, Anu Malik and many other singers and composers are now a staple on India's reality show scene.
Niret Alva, executive chairman and co-founder of Miditech, laments that the market in India is not mature enough to think of formats sans the glamour quotient.
"In the West, there are beautiful formats, which are not high cost, which do not have celebs and yet they work thanks to powerful storytelling. It's sad that in a country of 1.2 billion people, we are still celebrity-obsessed.
"Hopefully, over time the scenario will change and channels will start focussing on making stars out of the ordinary man."
Veteran actor Anupam Kher is as blunt as it gets. He says forget television, no business works without Bollywood these days.
"It's strange that the platform which was for common people has become celebrity-driven, but I think without actors and Hindi cinema nothing works, no national paper, no news channel and, similarly, no reality show," Anupam told IANS.
"Cinema is an integral part of everybody's life and an actor's life - what he does or doesn't do -make top stories in every medium - print, online or electronic. That is the time we are living in," he added.
For an audience that is comfortable shelling out only Rs.200-Rs.500 for cable TV or DTH services every month, channels are pouring millions into Bollywood stars' pockets and on elaborate sets just for the sake of some publicity.
According to industry estimates, celebrities get anything between Rs.100,000 and Rs.10 million per episode. The pay package can be much more when actors like Amitabh, Shah Rukh, Salman and Akshay are on board.
Sometimes the cost of the celebrity is more than the entire cost of producing the show but, as Sharma points out, "What's the point of producing a show in a tight budget which nobody sees?"
So, for channels, it's all worth it!
"Celebrity presence cannot be just measured in the slot rating or the rating of their show. Their presence creates a lot of buzz, attracts attention to the channel, there is a lot of PR (public relations)...and it can have a positive rub off on imagery and perception. All these things are important for a brand and have immense value," explained Nikhil Madhok, senior director, Marketing and Communications, Imagine TV.
Nevertheless, Ashvini Yardi, programming head of Colors, believes "there has to be a direct connect between the celebrity and the viewers".
"A celebrity is important only if he fits the show perfectly. There is no point in 'force-fitting' shows with celebrities just for publicity," she said.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)