The XYZ Show, a 15-minute weekly political satire television show that first went on air on Kenya’s Citizen TV on May 17, 2009, may not be turning out to be what it was intended to be.
While its creator, Kenya-based Tanzanian cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa popularly known as GADO describes it as a “difficult show to do technically”, many viewers describe it variously as a flop with “poorly-developed scripts”, “inability to connect with the audience”, a “show lacking in immediacy and currency” and that “it has great 3-D puppets that need better stories”.
Saying that “humour is a difficult subject to script”, GADO says XYZ is costly in terms of financial and human resources required and that his production house, Buni Ltd, is looking for a bigger pool of writers “to bring variety to the show.”
GADO works works with groups such as Home Boyz and Unima Puppeteers in realising the show whose pilot was bankrolled by the embassy of France in Kenya.
Executive-produced by Marie Lora, the XYZ Show is funded by Ford Foundation, the embassies of The Netherlands, France and Finland, and the Prince Claus Fund.
Though the idea was mooted in 2002 when GADO was invited to Paris where he visited the canal Plus studios during the Kenya-Franco Cooperation week and had one person train in France to create the Mwai Kibaki puppet, GADO says, “We’ll need better scripts, puppeteers and delivery time in order to realise a better produced and presented show. Though we still don’t have enough money, we can survive for at least a year.”
He nevertheless says his team has done well given the enormous challenges they have faced. “We’ve done only three shows. We are operating with 10 puppets though we are preparing more. Confining scripts to the 10 and having to keep everything current is a big challenge”, GADO says.
XYZ starts with the creation of puppets through drawings and sculpting of; then story scripting follows based on current political events. Not all the material used in the creation of puppets is available locally. The latex is from France while the eyes are from the UK. Each of the 10 puppets:President Mwai Kibaki, Prime minister Raila Odinga, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, former Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua, US President Barrack Obama, among others, is handled by two puppeteers during the shoot. While some episodes are made with computer generated images, others are shot to playback, with lip sync accompanying digitisation.
Though this is the first political satire show using puppets to go on air in Africa”Zapiro’s on the South African Broadcasting Corporation would have been the first but it didn’t go on air”broadcasters were reluctant to air the XYZ Show for fear of victimisation in Kenya’s shrinking freedom of expression since Kibaki came to power in 2002. It was during retired president Daniel arap Moi’s regime that stand up comedians like Redykyulass of Walter Mong’are, Tony Njuguna and John Kiarie thrived on television They poked fun at President Moi and his hawkish and loyal minister John Kamotho and even the then opposition leader Kibaki and his wife Lucy. Upon assuming office Kibaki made it clear he did not tolerate criticism; Lucy Kibaki invaded Nation Newspapers while government operatives invaded and vandalised equipment of Standard Newspapers and KTN for allegedly endangering national security. It was during this political atmosphere that the XYZ Show was conceived and why many media houses did not want to touch it.
GADO says some non-anticipated challenges have cropped up. “For instance, digitising has to be done on set to get work done well and we’ve had to buy a computer and an extra camera that we hadn’t budgeted for.”