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BW Businessworld

Small Screen Shenanigans

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With her debut novel The 6 PM Slot, Naomi Datta has attempted to expose the gritty realities that underlie the overtly romanticised world of television (she hails from) by weaving together a narrative replete with starry tantrums, corporate attrition, hysterical makeovers, unwarranted slogging, mud-slinging journalism, endless brawls set up to increase TRP and so on.

The protagonist, Tania, is a supervising producer in YTV (Youth TV) who constantly scurries from one frivolous filler show to another. When she is asked to handle, 'Love Calls', a light chat show to revive the evening slot, the cat is set among the pigeons. Tania confronts serious issues when she has to deal with a host sporting a fake accent and erroneous speech patterns and two immediate bosses with insignificant talent. Trouble ensues when the anchor, Vrushali, gets chicken pox; the show's episodes are aired without prior testing and the skimpily dolled up host fails to raise the programme's ratings.

While all this is going on, Tania manages to befriend her celebrity management head, Aditya (who proves to be her confidante) and becomes an oblivious muse to her senior producer, Bose. However the doomsday in Tania's career begins when Vrushali receives a call from a petrified, despondent girl who has been betrayed by her boyfriend and is about to die of cancer. The show which survives on substantial fake callers, faultily handles her problems in a breezy manner. This catches the attention of YTV's rival news channel YNN (Your News Now), who sensationalise the story on their prime slot to regain their own ratings.

What follows after the debacle maligns the channel's reputation and severely costs an innocent Tanya professionally. With the help of Aditya's advice, she is able to make the most of her situation and plans to bust the scam on YNN, which secures her position as a senior producer at YTV.

The novel isn't high on either comedy or romance and instead centers on the gossip churning scuffles generated between television channels to score higher ratings. Naomi Datta establishes inconsequential backstabbing as a means to get out of crisis and retain respective job positions within the context of her story. She also shares some chief principles of the television industry one of which upholds the viewer as an idiot. Another rule states that the 'magnitude of the tantrum is inversely proportional to the magnitude of talent'. One law believes news qualifies as entertainment while another regards soul and substance as a poor substitute to success.

The 6 PM Slot is a non-serious read which observes TV production as a nonsensical occupation and comprises thinkable situations which aren't exactly out of the box ideas for a writer like Datta who has been a part of the industry she represents. The climax is interesting, well thought out and manages to break the monotony in the novel.

Although characterisation is one of her strengths, Datta's plot lacks creativity and originality. As a low down on the melodramatic lives of the people behind the 'glamorous' world of television the book unravels the deceit, sacrifice and pretence that constitute the television industry's bleak underbelly.