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@IsidingoSABC3 is Back! @Buhlebonga interviewed head writer, @RohanDickson

Isidingo’s back to former glory. Buhle Mbonambi spoke to head writer, Rohan Dickson

Rohan Dickson (Picture: Isidingo)
Isidingo, weekdays at 7pm on SABC 3, recently crossed the two million viewer’s threshold. After two years of barely there ratings, terrible storylines and actors leaving, the show is slowly getting back to the edgy goodness it was famous and won awards for. With the show having celebrated it’s 4000th episode this past Wednesday, it spelling a whole new direction for the show, that is not only critically acclaimed, but actors are now interesting in being part of the show again and it’s mainly due to Rohan Dickson.

It’s great to see the edge return on the show. How has the feedback been from other fans of the show?
It’s been great. We are very heavy on social media and the instant feedback we get from our viewers is really great. Even during that controversial storyline of Bradley Haines killing his father, which people believes was a play on the Oscar Pistorius story. Their responses were immediate and they told us how they felt about the show and the direction we were taking, which is something that hadn’t happened in a while. It was great publicity that the show needed and we took that and ran with it. So we appreciate that viewers are back, are responding emotionally to the storylines, which is what we want. The audience has picked on the things we wanted them to pick up on. That whole ‘I can’t believed her kissed her’ or ‘How dare she do that!’ kind of emotional reaction that is only possible with good writing and developed characters.
Even the numbers are rising…
Yeah. That’s a good feeling because we were and still are trying to reclaim the show’s audience and repair the trust and relationship they had with the show. And I think we are half way there. So it’s such a great feeling to see the numbers rise on the show. It requires so much hard work, which I think my team and I have managed to do and that’s by going back to basics and finding out what worked on the show before, which made it such a success.
When you joined the show, what did you think was wrong with it?
Aside from the poor ratings, it was evident that the audience had lost a connection with the show. They were now watching because of habit. The stories were rushed and underdeveloped and the viewers had noticed this. The nuance, the relationships and the emotional connection was also lost with some of the characters. Some characters were doing things that were unlike them and this was seen as a betrayal by viewers.
Did you feel like you needed to start from scratch- a new template and new stories?
Going back to basics felt like starting from scratch, but we had a base and it was those characters that were still on the show and now it was up to us to make the show work. I will admit that the writing team needed to be changed. I kept some of the writers who had been with the show for a while and know the characters, but I also brought in a new team, fresh voices to refresh the show.
Cast members, Robert Whitehead, Kgomotso Christopher and Linda Sokhulu
And the cast, how did they receive you?
I had to win them over. I had to win their trust, the actors and also the crew. It’s very easy to lose trust in our industry especially since it’s such a creative space. The negativity surrounding the show was not good for morale. But now I think I have won them over. The performances are better and we see that because the audience is so vocal about it. The writing is also better and that therefore pushes the actor to deliver a great performance. A good thing is that the industry is taking Isidingo seriously again. We are once again seen as challengers in the list of great local shows, which is great. Even other actors want to join the show now and that’s always the biggest compliment. And that’s what we have been hungry for- getting the show back on track and then doing such a great job, that we become the best show in SA again. And now the hard work starts. We can’t get comfortable now.
There was some controversy earlier this year with the Bradley Haines storyline. Do you think it was warranted or are South African’s being alarmist?
I think it was a pretty good storyline. We got better AR’s than in previous months and the show got the publicity it needed. For me, the storyline was a taste of what Isidingo is right now. We have better storylines now, definitely. The thing is, we did this prepared this storyline three months before the Oscar trial started and when the storyline was being aired, people had an emotional reaction to it. It’s great that they did, because it shows that their level of engagement with the show is high. But what the response to the storyline did was to teach us about the importance of balance in our storylines. But we don’t regret. The Brad storyline showed us that we were on the right track with the new direction we are taking with the show.
I’m sure it spurred you on to write more edgy stories that will get SA talking?
Oh yes, definitely. Once again it’s all about the balance in the stories that we tell. From the hectic drama, the melodrama, the soapie “Oh they went there moments” goodness and of course trying to be relevant with our stories. It’s important for us to have realistic drama. It can’t be far fetched. We have to keep it real.
Was Vusi Kunene (Jefferson) leaving the show a blessing in disguise? The Sibeko’s were very boring, but now, they are the most interesting storyline mainly because of the power struggle in the family.
Look, I wouldn’t day it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s always sad when an actor leaves a show. But it did allow us to stage some drama on the show. It allowed us to explore the storylines that you see on air now. It was a test for us and the big thing was how are we going to take advantage of this and create come great TV? I think it worked well. The actors are doing great and Kgomotso Christopher (Katlego) is right now, giving us some of her best work. Once again, having the trust of the actors to give them great material is great. She has become one of the most powerful, independent, yet also polarizing characters on the show. We have had to build her up- from the shell she was after that whole abuse debacle with Jeff, to being the woman she is now. I can easily say that Katlego is one of the most important characters on the show at the moment.
How is Lincoln role shaping up? And what’s his end game, if there is such, with him and Katlego? He’d do anything to keep the shares in the family.
Look… Jeff’s death has been an eye-opener for the whole family and new players have come out to play in the family. Lincoln is very much a part of how the Sibeko family shapes up and sees themselves in the future. He’s a very key character right now and put Katlego in and their friction, then it’s an intriguing dynamic that is going to be worth looking out for in the next couple of weeks. The audience is going to love it.
Cast member: Noluthando Meje 

The Zondile’s joining the show has been good, mainly because it feels like the old Isidingo again. Have the viewers taken positively to them?
Oh wow! The Zondile’s have been such a hit with the viewers, it’s amazing. And it’s because they are so relatable. They are everyday people who we all know. They work hard, love each other and want to have better lives.  I sometimes wonder if the audience loves them because of the actors (Jet Novuka and Noluthando Meje) or because of the story. But either way, we love that they are loved and they have become such power players on the show. The link between the super rich and the working class. For too long, Isidingo was all about the rich people- Barker, the Sibekos and even the Matabane family who were now middle class. The Zondile’s bring an authenticity to the show, which was missing for a while. And it’s so funny when you contrast them with the Sibeko family. The Sibeko’s have everything, but they are unhappy and fighting all the time. The Zondile’s have nothing and yet they are happy.

The charm of Isidingo lay in it being a soap set in small town and small towns have gossip. Any word on bringing back Maggie and Stella?
(Laughs) All our characters are part of the Isidingo world and they will always be there. Whether we see them on screen, is another matter. The same with the Matabane family. They are out of town. They are still in our universe, so we can never say never.
So what can we look forward to?
The Sibeko’s are going to be very instrumental in a lot of our storylines. We are taking the
show to the streets, exploring the ruthless taxi industry and the socio-realism issues in 
society. I can’t reveal more, but there’s going to be some great TV coming up on the show.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Tribune SMtv Guide of 05 October 2014

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