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In de Gayelle

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Surprisingly, the media has caught up with the desperate straits in which Gayelle The Channel has found itself. The news article opened with the ominous line, “Financial woes have forced the management of Gayelle the Channel to downsize…again.”  The actual truth is that, since the disbanding of the Gayelle news department, the company has been quietly and steadily haemorrhaging staff. Within recent times, the station has gone from slow but progressive cancer strenuously resisting all treatments to accelerated metastasis with a most grim prognosis.  Approached for comment, Gayelle’s Errol Fabien appeared to blame both an apathetic business community and viewing public. He cited ever-declining revenues for the quagmire from which the last bastion of local content seems unable to extricate itself.

I have only the greatest respect for Errol Fabien and Christopher Laird. I was given opportunities at that station that I would never have been offered elsewhere and I am sure there are a great many citizens who can say the same. I do believe, however, that Uncle Errol does the local television industry (such that it is) the greatest disservice by boiling it down to advertiser apathy.  I spent four years at the station before I was jettisoned along with the rest of the newsroom as the company’s fortunes began to wane. While I was never given an opportunity to look at the books, there was a distinct impression that, in its inception, Gayelle was beating advertisers off with a stick. It may very well be that businesses were attracted to the lower-than-usual rates on offer. But there was an almost palpable anticipation of what this experiment would yield.

Companies would send food and drink in an almost endless supply knowing that the presenters, who complained ceaselessly about being “rell hongry,” would gleefully oblige and gobble up their products on air, profusely thanking their benefactors even as the crumbs cascaded from their greasy lips. It is difficult to say though just how much of that orgy of product placement was followed by actual payment for advertising spots on the station. However, it is important to understand Gayelle’s philosophical underpinnings.  At the outset, the channel would rely principally on live programming as opposed to “canned” or pre-recorded and edited features or series.

These were deemed simply too costly and resource intensive. Hence the extensive roster of talk shows from the crea- tively titled Cock-a-Doodle Do (which could just have easily been called “hey get up, iz six o’clock) to the confused and largely pointless Doubles featuring a married couple which eventually imploded on air when the normally mild-mannered duo went Al-Qaeda one morning over the show’s cancellation. Then there was Macajuel Time with the departed Jason Daly. This show, as did all the others, suffered from a deficit of guests. Ultimately, what you would have for days on end is Jason sitting down on his carpeted box taking phone calls with conversations along the lines of “Hello?” … “Yes caller, you are on Gayelle The Channel, how are you today m’dear?” … “Hello! Oh gosh take de baby outside nah, ah talking wit Gayelle heeear! Hello!...” … “Yes we are hearing you caller, go ahead!” … “Yes how yuh going!” … “Well I am blessed and highly flavoured (tee hee hee). I jess rell hongry! Whot you cook today?” And so on.

With a minimum of four live daily shows, how on earth did they expect to supply fresh guests for each one every day, and at odd hours of the day no less! Most of those shows eventually went extinct as was easily predictable with either co-hosts openly warring with each other on live television or the viewer tuning in to find the show gone. Yet management saw nothing wrong with what most would consider an extremely unprofessional environment. Gayelle the Channel was something new on the landscape and they were go-ing to do it their way. It did not matter if a programme started half an hour late or at all for that matter. I recall receiving complaints in the newsroom from viewers that the 10 pm repeat of the newscast had been replaced by some bizarre black and white film. I was subsequently told by the management, “Oh yes, that was our movie night so we cancelled the repeat.”

Indeed, at times it seemed that Gayelle revelled in this comical atmosphere of free-spirited abandon and laissez-faire ethos. One member of the newsroom told me when I called her to ask if she was coming to work, “I takin’ my day today cos I have rell laundry to do. The company say whenever we need time fuh weself jess take it.” That was when I realised that Gayelle was a losing proposition. Now, Gayelle had built up roughly four years of goodwill with advertisers but, when it became clear that the station had no intention of improving its product, eventually this interest began to dissipate. For Errol to say they did not have money to do “Hollywood programming” is skirting the issue. Dreevay is one example of a programme with vast potential; for the most part the quality was quite good.

Very soon, however, what was meant to be a travel programme went quickly off the rails, vacillating between outdoor locations and insipid in-studio skits in which, for some strange reason, all of the men were usually draped in gauche feather boas and sporting exaggerated eyelashes. That was my circuitous route to address the suggestion made by Errol that viewers have a preference for foreign fare. This was, perhaps, the most unfortunate statement of all, particularly for the legion of Gayelle fans out there. It is precisely because the average viewer has been fed a steady diet of imported programming that all local producers have a responsibility to up the ante. There was a time when TTT would hit you with a three-hour Indian flick and you could either watch it or go mow the lawn; those days are long gone.
Viewers have a smorgasbord of options today and they will not tolerate substandard local television shows merely to fly the local content flag.

I have read comments about the quality of equipment that Gayelle had at its disposal. Well, as any good film maker or television producer will tell you, the most important resource is technical skill and creative drive. Advances in technology have levelled the playing field to the extent that even the most modest of budgets can produce wonderful work. Viewers though ought not to expect a product along the lines of Planet Earth or Dancing with the Stars because the budget for those productions probably represents the marketing budgets of all companies in Trinidad combined for two years (perhaps more). It is unlikely that Gayelle will survive this latest challenge; it has been a long and bruising descent. In my opinion the brand still has tremendous value. Whether anyone would be willing to make a major investment to revive the station is the million dollar question (and it will certainly require much more than a million dollars). To Errol I am afraid I must say, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars…but in de Gayelle!”


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