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Kenyan TV Program a Hit


Kenyan television viewers are witnessing more and more home-grown dramas, situation comedies, talk shows and other entertainment on their stations. Once the domain of mostly American and Mexican producers, TV shows are becoming increasingly Kenyan. Viewers say they identify strongly with the themes and characters portrayed in the new programming.

Hilda the beauty shop owner and her customers are just about to get shot.

She pleads for the life of her teenage daughter, but the gunman is undeterred.

It is another take on the set of one of Kenya's hottest new shows, Wash and Set.

The drama chronicles the ups and downs of Hilda, the owner of a beauty shop in the country's capital.

Until about four years ago, comedies, dramas and soaps shown on Kenyan television came mostly from the United States and Mexico.

Since that time, there has been an explosion of local programming. Topping the list is Tahidi High, a favorite among young people like columnist Annie Arogo. "I love Tahidi High, mostly because I think they actually do what happens," she said. "It is not something that is fiction - it is something we can relate to, it's things we did in school, things that you know are happening in schools."

And then there is Churchill Live, a saucy and at times irreverent poke at Kenyan politics and society. Others include Makutano Junction and Cobra Squad.

The growing quality of home-grown TV shows is drawing more viewers, says Joshua Mwanik, product manager at the media firm, MIH Internet Africa.

"What will differentiate a good station from the rest is the quality of the content on that station," Mwanik said. "Now, the quality of that content, if it is local - because everybody can get the same syndicated shows from abroad, but the local content is going to become the difference".

Many Western shows are easily and widely pirated. By the time these shows air on Kenyan TV, he says, many people are one or two seasons ahead. Because Kenyan programs are not pirated, they appear fresh on the TV screen.

Also, this year, broadcasters are switching from analog to digital technology, dramatically opening up the number of television frequencies and spaces on the internet, making room for more programming.

Some Kenyan programming is beginning to be shown on DSTV and other African networks, raising the country's visibility on the African entertainment scene.

And program offerings have expanded from mostly dramas to a wide range of entertainment.

Grace Omondi is deputy production manager for NTV, the channel owned by Nation Media Group Limited, one of five major television stations in the country.

Her job is to schedule the line-up of programming largely based on viewer demand.

"On Monday you have a comedy, Beba Beba. On Tuesday you have a game show, Kwizzikal. On Wednesday you have a salon drama. On Thursday you have stand-up comedy, on Friday a Tanzanian drama. On Saturday you have a youth program, like Hip Hop, and then on Sunday you have the thriller. So it is local, but a variety," she explains.

Back on the scene of Wash and Set, director Mary Migui explains that her priority is to make the show as relevant to her audience as possible.

"There is nothing more fantastic than being able to tell a Kenyan story to a Kenyan audience in a Kenyan way and to have that done by a Kenyan crew," Migui said. "There is nothing for me more fulfilling."

She says she and her colleagues plan to do this for a long time to come.

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