Friday, April 16, 2004

T&T: Other channels taking real stick in de Gayelle

The thing I like best about Gayelle the Channel is its slogan: “At last we own TV!” What I like about it is that nobody who doesn’t understand both Standard English and Standard Trinidadianese would get the pun. When the station first began broadcasting, I surfed in and surfed out without much pause. I am not one of those people who believe that something should be supported just because it’s local. My dips didn’t reveal much to either interest, entertain or benefit me. I had planned to wait until Gayelle had original programming and then try them again. But it was my hairdresser Pabs, owner of Parbatie’s All Hair Salon and one of the few hairdressers who knows how to cut naturally curly hair, who made me take a longer look.

“They have this show between six-thirty and seven, Philomena and Kailash,” she said. “I doh miss that.” So the next evening, I tuned in at six-thirty to Philo Mania and listened as “Philomena” talked all her business with Kailash. It was a most hilarious and entertaining half-hour and, after I watched the show a few more times, I was also impressed on several other counts. The formula is a standard one: the comic playing to the straight man, but the originality lies in “Philomena” being the Gayelle studio’s cleaning lady. The character is played by actress and radio announcer Deborah Maillard, while Kailash Bedi just plays herself. It is a simple and novel concept. Moreover, there is no script, just a premise: in other words, a reliance on the Trini penchant for ole-talk.

Philomena is working-class, and her conversation ranges across man problems, money problems, child issues, and everything that normal people talk about. She even makes comments about other Gayelle employees, just as a real cleaning-lady would. Kailash, Indian-born and upper middle-class, is the perfect foil. Maillard plays Philomena superbly, with the just the right touch of parody not to lose the character but still get the maximum humour out of the premise. In this programme, Gayelle fulfils its basic mandate: to show us ourselves. After Philo Mania, there is the Gayelle News. I had only found out a few weeks earlier that Carla Foderingham was the presenter, and that alone tells me that, if Gayelle’s owners could expand their mandate, they would soon have the most-watched news programme in the country. Carla is by far superior to Shelley Dass on NBN’s Panorama and Colleen Holder on the TV6 News. Apart from being more attractive — like it or not, TV is a visual medium — Carla exudes a warmth and honesty that Holder and Dass are singularly deficient in. Even Carla’s stand-in, reporter Charlene Ramdhanie, has an urchin cuteness that fits right in with the Gayelle ethos.
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As far as getting their money’s worth goes, advertisers would probably focus on Philo Mania and the station’s early morning programme, Cock-a-doodle-doo, which is hosted by Wendell Etienne, Magella Moreau and, usually but not always, Errol Fabien. This programme puts to shame the competition on TTT and TV6. The former has Paolo Kernahan, who has a nice wit and an easy presence, but Paolo is easily surpassed by the cross-talk and picong that Cock-a-doodle-doo’s two (or three) hosts indulge in. Callers to the programme frequently tell the hosts that they make them late for work. “I trying to get out the door, but every time I reach I have to run back to hear the next joke,” one short-breath woman said.

But it isn’t that the programme is only kicks. Earlier this week, they had lawyer Gregory Delzin on to talk about the death penalty. Apart from presenting clear and irrefutable arguments against capital punishment, there were a few callers who actually agreed with Delzin: and this is something I have never heard on any talkshow dealing with this virulent topic. Gayelle the Channel, then, is distinct from the other TV stations in two particular ways. The first is the obvious one: its programming is entirely local. The second is that it runs on talent, whereas the other stations run on professionalism. I do not by this mean that talent is not professional: in fact, talent cannot create anything superior unless it is very professional (a truism wanna-be writers, to cite my own area of expertise, often fail to realise)

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