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Giving Mzansi the content it wants

Date Released: Mon, 1 September 2014 09:53 +0200

Vuyo Sokupa, head of programming at Mzansi Magic Channels, tells Margaret Harris that once the TV bug bit she could not resist it.

What do you do at work each day?

My day is not structured, but I essentially manage the local content output for Mzansi Magic Channels, which means I come into the office and meet my commissioning editors and gain status updates from them on all our new shows. I am in strategic meetings from then on. I present the local content strategies for my channels and manage the budgets and ensure that we are all staying within the parameters. I also meet a lot of producers and service providers, who pitch new shows to us.

What drew you to this particular career?

I didn't study television, but I have always been in love with content creation. After high school, I registered for a BJourn degree at Rhodes University. I took journalism and politics as majors, specialised in photojournalism and didn't really think about television as a major.

My first job was as a trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian. This was the best training ground. I was encouraged to speak up.

After realising that I wouldn't be happy chasing stories every day, I left and worked at the African Leadership Academy for a year.

After that, I truly started my career in TV. I was hired as a researcher for a daily talk show at Red Pepper Pictures and haven't looked back since.

Being a producer is tough in South Africa, but it is also rewarding. I found that there was something missing — I was responding to briefs issued by broadcasters for content that they wanted, but I was not at the centre of the decision-making — who decides what content needs to be on which channel, when it must premiere and why. I knew that was where I wanted to be.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

I wanted to be a paediatrician and a teacher. I love children and being a doctor would also have satisfied my latent hero complex. Come to think of it, I love medical dramas —ER, House and Grey's Anatomy —and now I know why.

What about your job gets you out of bed each day?

Being at the centre of decision-making — making television that resonates with our audiences and working with a passionate group of commissioning editors. They are deeply passionate about both the content and the audience. Working around passionate people will drive you out of bed.

What about your job keeps you awake at night?

As Jay-Z puts it, being "on to the next" is an exhilarating thing, but it is also nerve-racking. You have to think so what's next after Isibaya, what's next after Our Perfect Wedding? We have to be on the pulse of what the audience expects. That can keep us up at night.

What would you do if you could not do this job?

I would be a teacher or a facilitator of some sort. I love harnessing or incubating great ideas or great ability.

What qualifications do you have and how do they help you to do your job?

BA in journalism and a diploma in international relations and African diplomacy. Politics and writing have also been my passion and they make me a well-rounded media leader.

What qualities do you need to do this job?

Passion, tenacity, patience, confidence and, above all, the ability to manage and lead a team.

What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

I either can't remember them or I didn't deem them as challenges at the time, but I am struggling to come up with any at the moment.

In general, it's difficult getting people to come around to the fact that we are all working towards a common goal.

As my boss always says, we are in a creative partnership —broadcaster and producer.

What is the best career advice you have received and who gave it to you?

It wasn't given to me only, but Steve Jobs said "stay hungry, stay foolish".

There's so much to be said for being hungry and chasing your dreams or passion. You'll break all sorts of boundaries.

What mistakes have led to your most important lessons?

Don't be scared. Step up and be bold. Your voice is important and truly there's nothing great in you playing small. It just makes you live with too much regret.

Is working in TV as glamorous as it seems?

It is glamorous to an extent because you get to be in the same working space as the most brilliant of minds— writers, producers, directors, onscreen talent — the people who create the magic and pen the beautiful and funny scenes, the people who direct it and the cast that brings it to life. But it is also tiring. The work consumes your life and that's why you need to be passionate and love it.

What are your three favourite TV shows?

I have an international and local hat so I have to give you seven. Our Perfect Wedding, Saints & Sinners and Isibaya — these are all our shows I know, but I really love them. Internationally, I love Suits, Scandal, The Good Wife and Grey's Anatomy.

Interviewer: Margaret Harris

Source: Sunday Times, Business Times Careers

Source:Sundays Times, Business Times Careers